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25 years later, what can we learn from New Urbanism?

It's been 25 years since development started at Gaithersburg's Kentlands, America's first year-round new urbanist community. With a quarter century of experience under our belt, not to mention a major shift in American development patterns, what have we learned?


Kentlands Main Street. Photo by the author.

When new urbanism hit the big time in the late '80s and early '90s, central cities were still declining, and suburbs were still focused around enclosed shopping malls. Generations of Americans had grown up driving around the suburbs, thinking of urban places as crime-ridden ghettos.

New urbanism changed all that. Wherever a new urbanist neighborhood opened, a nice-looking and safe walkable urban place suddenly became accessible to the suburban masses, many of whom had never had one before. New urbanism reintroduced Americans to the concept of urban living. And as recent history tells us, once we learned urban living was an option, people flocked to it.

New urbanism's strength is its weakness

But all walkable communities aren't created equal, and the very thing that made new urbanism initially successful also became its most limiting weakness.

In older urban areas, new urbanist development is indistinguishable from well-designed regular infill. So although new urbanism has many infill projects to its name, the term is more strongly associated with suburban development like Kentlands, where it's more distinct.

Those suburban new urbanist communities have usually turned out to be internally walkable, but poorly connected to their auto-oriented surroundings. Without the critical mass of a huge walkable city surrounding them, they hit a ceiling. Residents can walk to a corner store and a few cafes, but most of them still need cars to get to work, or really to go anywhere more than a half mile away.

So new urbanism boomed, but those who bought into the concept of urban living quickly deduced that larger and older urban communities offer a superior experience. Kentlands is nice, but compared to places like DC, Arlington, or Silver Spring it's still relatively isolated, homogeneous, and car-dependent.

Thus, in a twist of fate, new urbanism's main lasting benefit may be that it's a gateway for suburbanites to become urbanitesa baby step towards regular urbanism. A necessary step, to be sure, but one quickly passed by.

We do still need new urbanism

Despite the fact that regular urbanism is back, and that new urbanism is no longer the progressive cutting edge of city planning, we still need it in the suburbs.

New growth at the suburban fringe will continue to happen, after all. It always has and it always will; even Dupont Circle was once rural. So we will need a steady stream of new suburban places that are more walkable, more mixed-use, less dependent on the 20th century highway paradigm that has failed so badly. New urbanism remains ideally suited for that purpose.

Regardless of whether or not it's true that we still need new urbanism to build good cities, we clearly still need it to build better suburbs.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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we clearly still need it to build better suburbs.

And that's the the thing. New urbanism is really just the "old" way of building suburbs. And that's fine. That's also the point that a lot of people miss when they critcize attempts at building better suburbs as "trying to force people into urban living" or what have you. It's not about the "meaning" of what we're building. It's about how well it functions (wrt, walkability, diversity of design, density etc.) at any level a la the transect concept. You see it at both surburban levels like kentlands and at very urban levels like what's being attempted with Tyson's.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

New urbanism reintroduced Americans to the concept of urban living.

That's overselling it, I think.

There's always been a demand for urban living (defining urban solely based on physical form), the move away from cities following WW2 had a lot of confounding variables (race, crime, economics, policy, etc).

New Urbanism might correlate with revitalization and renewed growth in cities, but it did not cause it.

New Urbanism's greatest contribution is incomplete. Style choices of traditional design aside, NU's greatest accomplishment is highlighting the influence of codes and rules on how we build, often with disastrous unintended consequences.

by Alex B. on Aug 21, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

"Kentlands is nice, but compared to places like DC, Arlington, or Silver Spring it's still relatively isolated, homogeneous, and car-dependent. "

but isolation isn't a binary. Arlington, for example, has Shirlington - which is a nice walkable island. Adjacent places like Fairlington may be more walkable than some parts of FFX or MoCo, but Shirlington is clearly more isolated than DuPont Circle. Simiarly look at Pentagon Row, a new urbanist infill lifestyle center, across the street from tower in the park hi rises, and from an enclosed mall.

To simply say about a place like Kentlands or Reston Town Center - or Mosaic - that its only baby step urbanism, is to refrain from examining the possibilities and challenges of improving connectivity for such places. Because those are challenges for most places in the US, and certainly for virtually all places in our region.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 21, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

One way of looking at New Urbanism is that it was simply a return to traditional urbanism. Calling it new and establishing it in a suburban developlemt setting was a way to bypass institutionalized road blocks in the form of established buisness, banking, regulatory, and yes, academic resistance. Market it as new and the public will chomp it up. Show them a superior urban and architectural street in the inner city and main stream America runs for the safety of thier cul-de-sac. The fact that it was extablished off the transit grid was simply a product of automobile oriented development patterns established after WWII designed to absorbe American businesses ability to mass produce just about everything in abondance. We are only now coming to grips with the dark side of the throw away society this created.

by Thayer-D on Aug 21, 2013 11:35 am • linkreport

the other reality is that there are going to continue to be lots of people who do not want to live in multifamily. Givent the economics of the construction industry, its going to be difficult to build many new SFHs (even on small lots) or even THs, anywhere but the fringe. The need is to make a better fringe.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 21, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

If you have to drive to get there, it's not 'urban'.

I was in Germantown's nifty new 'downtown', but it's located in an island of highways. I know there are bus routes, but it's a long ride from Shady Grove.

by Capt. Hilts on Aug 21, 2013 11:41 am • linkreport

Brookings institute did a study recently showing that most Americans would like both the suburbs and the city in one and prices in neighborhoods like Cleveland Park reflect that. I worked on a house for a wealthy guy coming in from Potomac becasue his family had enough of being surrounded by car only streets, yet they wanted a big old house with a big old yard. New urbanism isn't about multi-family vs. single family any more than the fake culture wars republicans like to drum up about science and religion. You can have both with-out the need to convince eachother of the superiority of either.

by Thayer-D on Aug 21, 2013 11:44 am • linkreport

CH

I've walked from Annandale to Mosaic, and biked it. (not to mention its 1 miles from a metro station). Is Mosaic "urban"?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 21, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

The need is to make a better fringe.
Preach.

Re: multifamily, I think there is more wiggle room than conventional wisdom would have you believe (especially as millenials start getting more and more established) but it's a salient point. I was amazed watching house hunters yesterday at one man's insistence of a SFH in Key West even when he had the option of beach front property in a similarly sized condo.

If you have to drive to get there, it's not 'urban'.
I mean, I pretty much have to drive to get to Annapolis (not really, but I'd probably have an easier time getting to Kentlands via transit than annapolis) but it's no less urban. At the moment we're in a transition. We kind of have to accept (for only a while, hopefully) that big new urbanist projects in the suburbs are still going to have plenty of parking. See Dan Reed's point about "Green Day Urbanism" (http://www.justupthepike.com/2012/03/in-defense-of-green-day-urbanism.html). The fact that people are flocking to places like these is still a signal of success.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 11:49 am • linkreport

Is Mosaic "urban"?

Well, the centerpiece is literally a parking garage, so I'm inclined to say "no."

by andrew on Aug 21, 2013 12:09 pm • linkreport

"Brookings institute did a study recently showing that most Americans would like both the suburbs and the city in one and prices in neighborhoods like Cleveland Park reflect that...
You can have both with-out the need to convince each other of the superiority of either."

Absolutely. Buy that hasn't stopped the 'urbanists' from arguing that Cleveland Park or Chevy Chase DC need a lot more density and 'vibrancy' to 'fix' them.

by Alf on Aug 21, 2013 12:14 pm • linkreport

We need more density in CP and Chevy Chase because we have a housing crisis and its better to build housing where things are already dense and there is transit available (more so for CP in that instance).

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

I was amazed watching house hunters yesterday at one man's insistence of a SFH in Key West even when he had the option of beach front property in a similarly sized condo.

House Hunters is always such a wonderful display of American excess. My mother loves that show, I watch it for the train wreck that it is.

I'm in the middle of house hunting, since in a few years we're going to need to take in at least one parent, and our current home just isn't going to cut it. if one more person says to us "but you can get so much more house if you drive to [far flung suburb distant from any meaningful transit options]!" I might scream. I want small. I want walkable. I want transit. I want to smallest yard one can possibly get away with.

by Birdie on Aug 21, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

Absolutely. Buy that hasn't stopped the 'urbanists' from arguing that Cleveland Park or Chevy Chase DC need a lot more density and 'vibrancy' to 'fix' them.

A few more apartment buildings along Connecticut, particularly where they would replace one/two story strip malls whose tenants could fill their ground floors, would add to the neighborhoods without changing their essential "streetcar suburb" nature. And it would be an improvement to those neighborhoods.

by JW on Aug 21, 2013 12:23 pm • linkreport

Off topic: occaisonally House Hunters (particularly international) will have people that decide they want walkable neighborhoods and such. It's definitely a minority though. And most of them are younger people anyway. I get excited when realtors mention when someone is near transit.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 12:28 pm • linkreport

@birdie - The Huntington area calls you. Jefferson Manor, Fair Haven, Huntington(outside of the flood plain). Huge amount of new development going on to give the area a more urban feel.

by Chris22303 on Aug 21, 2013 12:52 pm • linkreport

Kentlands is instructive because it didn't really deliver everything that was promised. OTOH, it probably had as much with old "new town" suburbanism like Columbia or Reston in its conception than with "New Urbanism". It seems to have spawned essentially similar designs, but on a smaller scale in MoCo--a shopping street, some apartments and then houses in places like Travilah, which are near employment, but have infrequent mass transit.

This kind of place itself draws on older planned communities like Shrilington or Chevy Chase, as well as older business districts (e.g., large streetcar strips like Cleveland Park) or satellite towns that were swallowed up by urban sprawl between the World Wars or in the early post-WWII boom. People like Calthorpe essentially used the interwar suburb as his model for the future.

the problem with New Urbanism de novo is that people who want a real walking environment probably start by looking in relatively close-in places. Living in place like Kentlands probably can be done without a car but even a non-car owning person like myself would find that isolating.

The vitality of functional urban neighborhoods themselves also is tough to engineer--Bethesda has much more vitality now than it did 15-20 years ago, even though the center of tow had plenty of restaurants, shops, etc. then. DTSS, despite its never ending corner turning is still depressing and only spotty in its vitality. Rosslyn may benefit a bit from getting rid of the flyovers, but i think it's going to be dead as an urban space for the foreseeable future.

by Rich on Aug 21, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

A few more apartment buildings along Connecticut, particularly where they would replace one/two story strip malls whose tenants could fill their ground floors, would add to the neighborhoods without changing their essential "streetcar suburb" nature

Developing ground level parking lots along major avenues and near transit centers would be nice. Though it would help if there was enough underground parking available to make up for it.

by Chatham on Aug 21, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

The article misses the point of what new urbanism created and contributed to not only suburbs but to traditional cities as well. The mixed use zoning it introduced and was pioneered in Kentlands by the City of Gaithersburg contributed much to rethinking the zoning codes even within central cities (which had tried to isolate residents from business districts and still are reflected in many sections of urban DC). The use of a mixture of housing styles and price points that encourages diversity is something that was not present before new urbanism. The return to designing communities to encourage interaction among its citizens with many subtle but important factors such as garages in alleys, placement of public space, connecting sidewalks (sidewalks themselves), reuse of historic buildings, etc were all brought into the discussion again by the new urbanist movement. New urbanism brought folks back to thinking about public space as more than just about transport and more about connections.

After living in Kentlands/Lakelands for over ten years, I can tell you it is one of the most diverse, connected walkable and transit accessible communities I have experienced. While it could have additional younger, single individuals, all other demographics are well represented along with different incomes and racial backgrounds. While there are $1 million houses, condos and apartments can be found that start as low as $250k. There are over 40 unique restaurants with various cuisines. The Kentlands Downtown is one of the few places that local upstart businesses have the opportunity to open without the corporate world of traditional suburban development due to the individual live/work units. There are over 200+ business in the Kentlands Downtown. The entire downtown area has evolved over time and will continue to do so based a master plan that was and is forward thinking. The Arts Barn provides regular access to unique artists, including an artist in residence program. A major private employer is across the street with over 1000 jobs and the county has opened up a central office for many departments on the other side. Access to bus routes (walkable), MARC commuter rail (bike), and Shady Grove (car) is generally under 10 minutes. Several residents commute by bike, have offices in the Kentlands Downtown or work from home. All major errands can be accomplished within the Kentlands. The community regularly holds concerts, runs, group bike rides, trick or treat events, and holiday events. There is a Foundation that runs several activities including a community chorus. I could go on, but the point is Kentlands and new urbanism have and continue to offer a lot including to those in traditional cities. Done correctly, there is a vibrancy that is created in these places that I will produce some of the best public spaces anywhere.

by ujavitiz on Aug 21, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

andrew

lots of small city downtowns and some large city downtowns have prominent park garages. The one at Mosaic which is surround on the west and south sides by street facing retail, and that has a retail store upstairs, does not detract from the street life of Mosaic. It enables auto access (inevitable given the density, design etc of the part of Fairfax that shops there - draw a circle about 5 miles around Mosaic) while still enabling walking within it.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 21, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Meanwhile, prosperous affluent Asians consider to choose traditional neighborhoods in MoCo, Fairfax and Loudoun, where the schools are excellent and their families have room to grow.

by Beachcomber on Aug 21, 2013 2:48 pm • linkreport

@ ujavitiz,
I think the original thrust of the post was that New Urbanism did a lot to promote the idea of urban living as a viable alternative to suburban America. Showing a spanking new "old town" reminded many of the downtown's they only associated with crime and poverty. But your summary of all that Kentlands helped to usher in is exactly right.

Having worked in the Town architect's office 20 years ago when only the first neighborhood was up (Gate House), I can say that everything you spoke of was part of what DPZ intended to happen. It's nice to hear that it worked out.

Another interesting essay on the changes wrought by another community Seaside can be seen in a video in this post.

http://bettercities.net/news-opinion/blogs/kaid-benfield/20394/reconsidering-seaside-florida

by Thayer-D on Aug 21, 2013 2:54 pm • linkreport

"Meanwhile, prosperous affluent Asians consider to choose traditional neighborhoods in MoCo, Fairfax and Loudoun, where the schools are excellent and their families have room to grow. "

Then they push their kids to go to Ivy league schools - after which said kids want to go live in the same walkable urban neighborhoods the other Ivy League kids want to live in.

by TruthaboutFairfax on Aug 21, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

Meanwhile, prosperous affluent Asians consider to choose traditional neighborhoods in MoCo, Fairfax and Loudoun, where the schools are excellent and their families have room to grow.

Um, ok. Anyway, if you go to Kentlands (which is in MD and not in Clarendon) you'll find lots of single family homes and something much closer to whatever you think "traditional neighborhood" means. For that matter, there are lots of single family homes in Clarendon.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 3:05 pm • linkreport

Again, it's not necessarily the type of housing you buy. It's the overall design of the community. There are plenty of places with SFH's that are still walkable and transit friendly. There are apartment communities that are totally beholden to the car.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 3:12 pm • linkreport

New urbanist-inspired "new towns" like Kentlands and "town(-less) centers" like Bowie and Brandywine, whihc are developed on greenfields away from transit, are certainly better than traditional "cul-de-sac suburban" developments—but only slightly. Kentlands is lovely, but it's still basically suburban sprawl—just a better form of it. After all, the Westphalia development that I and others argued against (most recently) in yesterday's post and comments purports to be just such a new urban edge city enclave.

I think the real lesson to be learned 25 years after Kentlands is that we need to ensure that new urbanism ties into what made old urbanism work: walkable cities and neighborhoods that are connected to other walkable cities and neighborhoods via a regional transportion network. Transit is key. So, in that regard, Capt. Hilts is right: "If you have to drive to get there, it's not 'urban.'"

This is why I argue so strongly in my policy paper for reinvesting in and revitalizing existing Metro-accessible inner-Beltway communities like Capitol Heights and Addison Road. These places originated as streetcar suburbs and were, at least initially, built on traditional neighborhood (a.k.a. "old urbanist") principles. With the right kind of new urbanist infill development, coupled with the right mix of commercial and residential uses, these kinds of places could roar back to life, becoming what Chris Leinberger terms regionally significant urban commercial WalkUps.

True urbanism is also possible outside the Beltway too, with the right transit connectivity. Annapolis used to be one of those places. With the arrival of the Silver Line, Reston Town Center will become a true urban place. Similarly, both Bowie and Brandywine, which were once old railroad towns on the Pope's Creek Subdivision of the old Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, could once again become true urban villages if commuter or light rail is built there. (Keep in mind, though, that before we build new rail connections to serve distant areas, we need to make sure we're maximizing the use of our exiting stations by creating walkable urban places there.)

by Bradley Heard on Aug 21, 2013 3:55 pm • linkreport

I think many here think if Westphalia not built, that land will not be developeed.

At the time Kentlands was built, MoCo already had an Ag Reserve and a de facto urban growth boundary - and Kentland was well inside it. There was no chance of that land (which already had subdivions appearing nearby, IIRC) remaining rural. If Kentlands had not been built, more typical autocentric subdivisions would have been. And the density would not have been that much lower, but the design would have been much poorer.

There are two different issues here, I think. One that came up for PG, and also came up in the discussion of LoCo "TOD" is how much density is appropriate away from high quality transit. The other is - what should design be like. Good design, thats attractive, ped friendly, community friendly, is an issue apart from density. And since quality transit is not possible everywhere, at every density level, good design is an issue apart from transit.

Kentlands showed that design standards for walkability and community are possible in a low density, greenfield environment. It was a breakthrough that way. That the lessons have been applied elsewhere, is good. Not all of the places its applied are places that have the right density for the level of transit they have. But the breakthrough on design and approach is important.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 21, 2013 4:09 pm • linkreport

"With the arrival of the Silver Line, Reston Town Center will become a true urban place."

RTC will be over 25 years old when the Silver Line reaches it. The same "you have to drive there, so its not urban" could have been said about it for decades.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 21, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure there's much utility in figuring out what are "real" urban places. Tyson's is plenty urban and will have train service. It'll be a while before it transitions to a "good" urban place. Meanwhile places like Reston, Mosaic, (and Annapolis too for that matter) are able to provide good urban spaces even when you have to drive to them.

by drumz on Aug 21, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

Having worked on the Kentlands, Lakelands and the 1997 Master Plan for the City of Gaithersburg, I would like to say that Kentlands is not a stand-alone new urbanism community. It has always been planned as a neighorhood or integrated section of the evolving larger City of Gaithersburg. Planning throughout Gaithersburg has incorporated New Urbanism, such as when the Olde Towne Gaithersurg Plan was being done by DPZ at about the same time that Lakelands (the extension of Kentlands) was under way. Remember that Gaithersburg was designated a "Corridor City" in Montgomery County's General Plan ("On Wedges and Corridors") half a century ago.

by G'burgplanner on Aug 21, 2013 5:36 pm • linkreport

How about reintroducing streetcars to the streetcar suburbs?

by Wlliam on Aug 21, 2013 9:45 pm • linkreport

Use the bike directions on Google maps to see how many jobs are within a 15 or 20 minute bike ride of Kentlands. There's the Quince Orchard corridor, NIST, the Rio Center, Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, and Johns Hopkins to name a few. Frederick Ave. and central Gaithersburg are within a 25 minute biking range.

An interesting factoid is about the owner of the Kentlands property around 1900: "Mr. Tschiffely was the largest wholesale pharmaceutical distributor in the Washington area, and owner of Washington's best-known pharmacy. His daily commute to Washington began with a horse and buggy drive to the Gaithersburg train station."

by Laurence Aurbach on Aug 21, 2013 11:04 pm • linkreport

I suspect the bigger impact on new urbanism is on small towns, not suburbs.

by charlie on Aug 22, 2013 7:21 am • linkreport

This article reflects a very simplistic view of how prior and current generations viewed urban and suburban areas. As a result, it exaggerates both the impact that "New Urbanism" had in shaping those perceptions and the alleged shortcomings of such communities today. It basically comes across as another pitch for urban living, but a significant percentage of the population will continue to prefer suburbs, including planned "New Urbanist" or "New Suburbanist" developments, with their alleged flaws, to older urban areas or dense new developments in places like Arlington.

by Hillaire on Aug 22, 2013 8:52 am • linkreport

There seems to be a great confusion as to what constitutes the meaning of "urban". Is it walkability, density, housing type, transit connectivity, or ethnic makeup of a radio listening audience? The dictionary defines it as "pertaining to, or designating a city or town." so I'd be inclined to go with that, yet what defines a city or town? Is it functions and numbers like Tysons or is it the physical form like Shepardstown or Georgetown, or for that matter Kentlands. I suppose we won't ever agree, but as an architect and planner, a true urban form of living is one where the civitas can take place, meaning, the pedestrian environment is enhanced to allow for socialization. All other definitions like density and transit are great to have, but historically, not necessary in defining a town. In that sense, Kentlands is a nice town.

by Thayer-D on Aug 22, 2013 9:14 am • linkreport

I do not even know where to get started with the problems with this piece and its iteration of "new urbanism." Someone drank the red punch big time. From the nuclear family- centered hegemony of single family houses to its relationship with HOPE VI as a design concept and conservative low-income housing movement (and the resulting displacement of public housing residents), new urbanism simply reinforced class, family formation, and gender norms.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 10:46 am • linkreport

@ East Bank,
Do you think that only Nuclear Families desire a single family home? What if we called it a stand-alone home for whomever likes to have some outdoor space for gardening and simply relaxing after a long day. It's a bit long, but at least it dosen't reinforce any societal norm, just human ones.

by Thayer-D on Aug 22, 2013 11:03 am • linkreport

Thayer-D:

I said nothing about which groups desire single family HOUSES. (By the way, a house is a specific style, a home is the social and cultural meaning we attach to various housing forms.) The academic literature on the relationship between white nuclear families and suburban houses is well established. But again, it is not about who wants what but what was and is available to whom through public policy. Whether it was the GI Bill (and loans to veterans), FHA-insured loans (neighborhoods redlined did not qualify), or exclusionary zoning, post-WW II house building is inextricably linked to exclusionary racial policies. As early as 1920s the federal government linked "good families" to white, middle class, nuclear families through federal health and housing campaigns. Check out Hayden, Hornstein, Radford, and Hutchinson for more information.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 1:17 pm • linkreport

I fail to see how building a conventional autocentric development at Kentlands would have changed norms on family formation, class, or race in America.

New urbanism has pretty consistently supported choice of housing format.

I suppose someone could blame new urbanism for its support of mixed use, mixed income which has supported efforts like HOPE VI which some see as "gentrification" However given that in the early 90's the housing projects of the 1930s and 40s were reaching an age where massive reinvestment was needed, and given a national consensus that they had been failures, and studies suggesting that this was correct,I doubt very much that retaining them as they were - the same number of units, all low income - was ever a feasible outcome, whether new urbanism had appeared or not.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 22, 2013 1:23 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity:

Did I say that building an autocentric development would have changed norms? No, I did not. You might need to reread my first comment. But the idea that a "new urbanism" development was a departure from earlier suburban, house building--as the author states--is ridiculous.

As for your comment about so-called housing choice, you should read Hornstein's A Nation of Realtors. He discusses how in the U.S. north, racial segregation manifested differently--not through Jim Crow. New forms of racial policies were developed to ensure that whites had access to capital (government insured loans with small down payments) and hence the suburbs, while blacks (and in some cases, Jews, Latinos, Italians, etc.) did not. The racial ideology changed: we were led to believe housing choice was natural when it was actually a result of policies. Per social policy historian Gail Radford, we were left with a bifurcated housing system: one in which whites gained a "right to housing" through these policies while blacks and other minorities were left with underfunded and crowded public housing. CNU is traditional beyond words.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

"But the idea that a "new urbanism" development was a departure from earlier suburban, house building--as the author states--is ridiculous."

It was a departure in how streets were laid out, how communities were designed. It did not abolish the detached single family home. There was no chance of such abolition happening in the US. To call NU traditional because it achieved feasible changes is absurd.

"s for your comment about so-called housing choice, you should read Hornstein's A Nation of Realtors. He discusses how in the U.S. north, racial segregation manifested differently--not through Jim Crow. New forms of racial policies were developed to ensure that whites had access to capital (government insured loans with small down payments) and hence the suburbs, while blacks (and in some cases, Jews, Latinos, Italians, etc.) did not. The racial ideology changed: we were led to believe housing choice was natural when it was actually a result of policies. Per social policy historian Gail Radford, we were left with a bifurcated housing system: one in which whites gained a "right to housing" through these policies while blacks and other minorities were left with underfunded and crowded public housing."

You are referring to policies instituted before CNU, most of which had been altered, or opened to people of all races, by the time CNU arose.

CNU was designed to improve communities and design. It was not an attempt to change the class structure of society. Why anyone would expect architects or urban planners to achieve that is beyond me (and yes, I know some at the Bauhaus thought they could, but they failed)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 22, 2013 2:07 pm • linkreport

Bu the way, are public buses actually permitted to enter Kentlands? Their web site does not have a link for transportation accessibility. That should say enough.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 2:09 pm • linkreport

@ East Bank,
Are you saying that Kentlands or other TND's have some kind of racist commponent to them?

by Thayer-D on Aug 22, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

Umm, the reason people expect architects and planners to achieve what you mention... is because architects and planners, in fact, indicate their interventions will have such results. Read the CNU's "Canons," which includes affordability as a goal, or its earlier literature.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 2:22 pm • linkreport

A NY Times article put is best, about people getting worked up about biking and walking: "quaint revolutionary gestures."

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

Improving affordability is conceptually different from altering the class structure of society.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 22, 2013 2:25 pm • linkreport

biking and walking actually achieve something for the individual who does it, and for the environment. Far better than the dozens of other more "serious" revolutionary attempts that either failed completely, were captured, or ended up doing significant damage.

But of course its good to have the NYT lecture us on what the proper revolutionary gestures are. Did they do that in the NYT magazine, amidst the ads for $20,000 pieces of jewelry?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 22, 2013 2:29 pm • linkreport

My question about public buses and Kentlands was not about whether the buses pass the gate but whether the public bus enters the community.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity:

So let me get this straight: planning for walkers and cyclists is a worthy goal, but planning for race, class, and gender equity is not? Ok...

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 3:14 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D:

I am saying that real estate has a racial component to it and it is naive to think that a TND gets us to a progressive place in housing policy and development.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

"So let me get this straight: planning for walkers and cyclists is a worthy goal, but planning for race, class, and gender equity is not? Ok..."

Im not sure what planning for race, class and gender equity looks like. Dealing with class is mostly a matter of income policy at the federal level. I wish luck to those trying to address it, but I am not hopeful much can be achieved. Race and gender equity is mostly a matter of enforcing our existing laws.

Im not sure how anything in new urbanism prevents those things from happening. It DOES address changes that are important, and achievable.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 22, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

One of the more repeated criticisms of Kentlands (and similar developments) is that its far from transit. Yet, if you look on google maps you'll see the bus stops anyway.

So let me get this straight: planning for walkers and cyclists is a worthy goal, but planning for race, class, and gender equity is not?

Well class is somewhat covered by the intentional mixing of different types of housing (sfh's, apartments, duplexes, etc) I'm interested in how you do accomplish the other two but I'm unsure how the actual form of the development is supposed to accomplish it.

by drumz on Aug 22, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

TND's dealt with class by mixing housing types, esspecially the dreaded granny flat and apartment over the store. As for race, I don't think anyone was "fooled" into thinking TND's are a racial nirvana becasue they never where intended to deal with racism.

I'm very familiar with America's race based housing policy of the past, but I just don't see that with Kentlands or other TND's. If anything, what I hear more is whitey gentrifying chocolate city and how that's a bad thing. Why should I get upset over a white person moving into a black neighborhood anymore than a black person moving into a white neighborhood? This country isn't perfect but it's great and getting greater;)

by Thayer-D on Aug 22, 2013 3:49 pm • linkreport

Rewind. When I mentioned Hornstein I meant David Freund's Colored Property. The full title is as follows:
Colored Property: State Policy & White Racial Politics in Suburban America

by East Bnk DC on Aug 22, 2013 4:55 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity:

The bifurcated system I mentioned is alive and kicking in federal policy. For example, we have the mortgage interest tax deduction through tax policy for house/condo owners. This benefit is not a universal benefit nor a means tested program. What the federal government loses in tax revenue through the m.i.t.d. is greater than the entire outlay for federal low-income, public, and affordable housing programs.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 5:04 pm • linkreport

I don't think anyone was "fooled" into thinking TND's are a racial nirvana because they never where intended to deal with racism.

What has Title IX done to address the tragedy of urban "food deserts"???

by oboe on Aug 22, 2013 5:10 pm • linkreport

"The bifurcated system I mentioned is alive and kicking in federal policy. For example, we have the mortgage interest tax deduction through tax policy for house/condo owners. This benefit is not a universal benefit nor a means tested program. "

The mortage interest deduction is available without respect to race, and millions of african americans take advantage of it. I am not saying it is just or good policy, but I don't see it as being mostly about race. I also do not see how one would expect architects to address an issue of national public finance and tax policy. There are people debating the deduction and thats good - it MAY have an impact on urban form (but since there are owners in hirises,and renters in detached homes, maybe not) I dont the failure of CONU to make it a priority says anything one way or the other about the traditionalism of CONU.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 22, 2013 5:24 pm • linkreport

drumz:

Thank you for pointing that out. I see that one street has the bus stops.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 5:30 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity:

My point about the mortgage interest tax deduction is about class. It is welfare for house/condo owners but we do not stigmatized because it is obtained through tax policy.

"Im not sure what planning for race, class and gender equity looks like. Dealing with class is mostly a matter of income policy at the federal level. I wish luck to those trying to address it, but I am not hopeful much can be achieved."

So I gave you an example. Dealing with class is more than income policy.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 5:36 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity:

You had asked about gender-sensitive planning. At the turn of the century there were many housing movements that fell outside of the single family house ownership model, including cooperatives and other variations that enabled child care and cooking responsibilities to be shared. Our current system is incredibly inefficient and costly. Americans' desire for house/condo ownership is not natural. (Our ownership rates are an anomaly in the global north.) The system is the result of (in part) vast federal intervention, the subsidization of suburbs (including highway building), and concerted campaigns by realtors, house builders, land institutes, and conservative interests claiming that the ideal and proper way in which to raise citizens was in a single family house. Anything short of that was viewed as akin to socialism. (It was the Fox News version of housing policy back then.) Alternative housing forms were met with major resistance.

So when I look at something like the Kentlands and related communities, I do not see how it really falls outside of those themes in housing policy. Old suburban developments frequently had a mix of lots and house sizes. Some had cul de sacs but some had grids. Some were dropped down in the middle of farmland and other were adjacent to walkable, downtown communities. So then what exactly makes TNDs special and progressive?

More on gender-sensitive planning... It is my understanding that TNDs are differently zoned but zoned nonetheless. Is is it possible to convert a non-granny flat house into a three unit apartment building for a widow to bring in extra income? Can a single father open a store in his house to earn extra money and stay with the children? In TNDs...don't think so.

These are still suburban developments with lots of rules, surveillance from HOAs, and some lack non-governed public space. It is okay for people to want those rules and live there but let's not act like they are anything more than a suburban development built on a grid.

There are often unit for rent and purchase. Can those for purchase

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 6:06 pm • linkreport

(cont)
There are often units for rent and purchase. Can those for purchase be bought by an LLC or 501(c)3 (say, a Jewish or Christian school) or does the HOA have final approval? In many, many ways these are just suburbs.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 6:12 pm • linkreport

The CNU and TND aren't meant to solve any inefficiencies in how we subsidize homeownership. Rather it was a response to an increasingly auto-centric (and thus, dangerous an alienating) way of planning communities. You're correct that its not new because that's the point. To bring society back to a point that isnt as reliant on automobiles.

Re: ownership models and racial equity I doubt that its impossible to plan for those things in addition to street/zoning networks that encourage walking/biking more than driving.

by drumz on Aug 22, 2013 6:46 pm • linkreport

IOW: whatever the specifics of kentlands, this type of development is meant to be flexible in regards to its use. Obviously to for this to work you need a governing body to understand this but it's still easier to do with a location similar to kentlands than a large lot single use, SFH, cul de sac development.

by drumz on Aug 22, 2013 6:52 pm • linkreport

So yes, I'd argue that wantig and building spaces that don't fully rely on the automobile is a progressive value.

by drumz on Aug 22, 2013 6:57 pm • linkreport

"Urban" gets thrown around so much, that it almost becomes like the word "technology" - a use so broad that the word becomes meaningless.

New Urbanism is particularly interesting, because the picture it conjures to many people is rather one of villages and hamlets, something almost "rural" in a way. It's of small town main streets - a lot of two story buildings, with the extent of uses being residential and small retail. At least this is the marketing on the brochures to a great degree. But what is the true definition of urban? Manhattan? Old Town Alexandria? A medium-sized downtown like Charlottesville? Or something as simple as two or 3 well-fronted blocks in a small town with a coffee shop, two restaurants, and a hardware or convenience store (with the catch basin being decidedly rural)? These examples could not be more dissimilar in scale, use, feel, and intensity - but they all might be sold on a brochure in one way or another as urban.

Strangely enough, I feel there is a place for a term like "sub-urban", and Kentlands or any one of the dozens of Kentlands clones in Loudoun County would fit this definition. Whereas suburban is a picture of a large area of residential-only use on 1/8 acre lots that surrounds an elementary school, sub-urban would constitute a cherry-picking of the 3 most mass-marketable elements of the (very broadly-defined) "urban" environment: townhouses, restaurants, small mercantile, and possibly doctor's offices. Excluded from sub-urban are rental apartment buildings, industrial uses (put auto-repair shops MILES away), large retail (folks love Costco, and Wegmans, but keep that mad Saturday traffic away from there homes!), job centers (again, too much intensity for many).

by stevek_occoquan on Aug 22, 2013 9:11 pm • linkreport

Well said, stevek_occoquan.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 10:33 pm • linkreport

There's this perception apparently that kentlands represents perfection. I dot know how that could be gleaned from the article. Hand wringing about what "urban" means is similarly misguided.

The key about kentlands and other new urbanism projects is it is intentional about reclaiming streets and public spaces for people and not for cars. Most other things aren't meant to be solved per se. Rather its a framework for adapting all sorts of things into a context that recognizes that the idea that cities/neighborhoods are for people and not for cars.

by drumz on Aug 22, 2013 10:42 pm • linkreport

drumz:

A little thought experiment...not being judgmental...just musing out loud... What if subsidizing house/condo ownership and car-centrism are merely different sides of the same coin? In the U.S. the phenomena happened together (although the car-centrism probably ramped up a couple decades later). In our individualistic American culture, can we get to a place in which the car is not the focus while retaining house/condo ownership, or do we really need to rethink all of these conceptions of place and home in order to shift away from car-dependent living? In terms of ideology (which forms the basis of choices), I think it is complicated to ask or to expect one without the other when they've been so thoroughly connected in our history and emotional memory.

by East Bank DC on Aug 22, 2013 10:56 pm • linkreport

I'd say many would like to see them as intrinsically linked. (Anyone trying to make a "cars are freedom while trains are socialist experiment). I disagree, pointing to many examples where you can own a home and be car free or you can live in a commune with your two moms and be car dependent.

I think that no matter what we go forward with regards to housing finance policy and racial and class reconciliation we'll still need to design our streets and public spaces for all modes not just cars. WRT kentlands, it's not that I don't get or disagree with what you're saying. It's just that I don't see why it must answer your other concerns in order to look at what it is successful at.

by drumz on Aug 22, 2013 11:58 pm • linkreport

I will note I was being facetious about the commune.

But if anything, I'd like to do what I can to disconnect the link between our auto dependency and our public spaces

by drumz on Aug 23, 2013 12:16 am • linkreport

"can we get to a place in which the car is not the focus while retaining house/condo ownership, or do we really need to rethink all of these conceptions of place and home in order to shift away from car-dependent living?"

There's "American Culture" and there's American's reality. We are all told many things from school to buisness to government that are up to us to accept blindly or decide on critically. Your assumptions seem to be based on the former without taking into account the latter who fought to improve things, thus the 'individuality' you describe.

In this category are the New Urbanists who believed that a mixed society was best. A society that came together in public spaces to form real community. That meant more a re-introduction rather than a re-thinking (as you say) of urban patterns of life. After decades of suburban isolation, many who moved in to Kentlands in the early years still walked around with a cul-de-sac mentality, but as the resident attested to earlier, a genuine common culture seems to have developed. And contrary to all your implied racism, it seems to be multi-cultural. But that stew is most likely a spicy gumbo rather than the melting pot dream ideal we all grew up with.

We are always going to have a spectrum of incomes in this country as is natural. Government's job should be to ensure that the stratification does not go to far, or else societal problems will ensue. But a planner can only draw up the physical plan that would encourage this. It's up to the government to incentivize the right outcome for the most, and for too long they did favor the white portion of this country. But if you hadn't noticed, this country's demographics is changing, maybe not fastenough for you but definatly in the right direction (Obama). So I think you lay much more on the sholders of planners than they can possible carry.

The planner your talking about is more a socioligist with graphs and charts. We tried that in the 1950's and 60's. One thing the New Urbanists thankfully did was move away from graphs and charts and more towards physical reality. Look at the output of planners pre-WWII with thier beautiful renderings of town plans next to the graphs and pie charts of the post war period. Then look at the pretty drawings of New urbanists. This isn't to say that analysis shouldn't underly pretty pictures, but it recognizes that most of us have other things going on in our life to think about the underlying ideology at work in our physical environments. The new urbanists recognize that people move around in a physical world, whatever color we happen to be.

"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through constant struggle."

Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Thayer-D on Aug 23, 2013 6:54 am • linkreport

Some of the commenters are suggesting that Kentlands and NU are inherently racist/classist, which is totally inaccurate.

Yes, Kentlands is an expensive, sought-after and affluent neighborhood. Mapping America shows that it and the adjacent Lakelands are 71% white and most households make over $100,000 a year.

But unlike many suburban neighborhoods built around the same time, Kentlands actually has a mix of house types and uses. There are 3 rental apartment complexes in Kentlands and Lakelands, along with condominiums, townhomes, cottages and, yes, huge single-family homes.

Kentlands' Market Square is a regional shopping destination with decidedly midmarket stores like Giant, Kmart, and Lowe's, along with a movie theatre. It has a public elementary and middle school and a park run by the City of Gaithersburg. There's even a Mormon church. The Kentlands Assembly (their HOA) doesn't have any control or say over whether these things could be built.

Besides, residents don't seem to have the same knee-jerk opposition to "outsiders" that other neighborhoods do. They fought to have a future Corridor Cities Transitway stop brought closer to the Kentlands so it could serve a future downtown development.

Kentlands isn't perfect by any means, but painting it as an exclusive, isolationist suburb is way off the mark.

by dan reed! on Aug 23, 2013 9:40 am • linkreport

"Thus, in a twist of fate, new urbanism's main lasting benefit may be that it's a gateway for suburbanites to become urbanites—a baby step towards regular urbanism."

This obsession with converting everyone into highrise dwellers is most bizarre. Some people might happen to like having a yard you know.

by Chris S. on Aug 23, 2013 9:54 am • linkreport

This obsession with converting everyone into highrise dwellers is most bizarre. Some people might happen to like having a yard you know.

This is a strawman. CNU (the org who came up with a lot of what makes up Kentlands and other groups) has a whole section on their website and other materials explaining the transect and how their principles can be applied to every building typology.

http://www.cnu.org/cnu-salons/2007/06/ask-cnu-whats-transect

Smart Growth, New Urbanism, GGW, lots of other orgs have never come close to adopting a position that posits putting everyone in a high rise and eliminating yards.

http://www.transect.org/

by drumz on Aug 23, 2013 9:58 am • linkreport

"You had asked about gender-sensitive planning. At the turn of the century there were many housing movements that fell outside of the single family house ownership model, including cooperatives"

I grew up in NYC. You dont need to tell me about Coops. In many cases they did not function that differently than Condos do today.

" and other variations that enabled child care and cooking responsibilities to be shared."

There were very few, and virtually none by the post WW2 period. They were not a viable alternative for CONU.

"Our current system is incredibly inefficient and costly. Americans' desire for house/condo ownership is not natural. (Our ownership rates are an anomaly in the global north.) The system is the result of (in part) vast federal intervention, the subsidization of suburbs (including highway building), and concerted campaigns by realtors, house builders, land institutes, and conservative interests claiming that the ideal and proper way in which to raise citizens was in a single family house. Anything short of that was viewed as akin to socialism. (It was the Fox News version of housing policy back then.) Alternative housing forms were met with major resistance."

Other industrialized countries may have higher numbers of renters (other than scandinavia and Israel, I dont think there are any with significant numbers of "intentional community" or "cohousing" arrangements. IE they function like the US, but with a different balance of renting and owning.

"So when I look at something like the Kentlands and related communities, I do not see how it really falls outside of those themes in housing policy. Old suburban developments frequently had a mix of lots and house sizes. Some had cul de sacs but some had grids. Some were dropped down in the middle of farmland and other were adjacent to walkable, downtown communities. So then what exactly makes TNDs special and progressive?"

Very little of what was built post-1945 had grids, and virtuallly one had the combination of aspects - garages in back, porches in front, narrower streets, grids, mix of lot and house sizes, etc, etc that Kentlands had.

"More on gender-sensitive planning... It is my understanding that TNDs are differently zoned but zoned nonetheless. Is is it possible to convert a non-granny flat house into a three unit apartment building for a widow to bring in extra income? Can a single father open a store in his house to earn extra money and stay with the children? In TNDs...don't think so."

I think that will depend on the locality in question. They could be done that way.

"These are still suburban developments with lots of rules, surveillance from HOAs, and some lack non-governed public space. It is okay for people to want those rules and live there but let's not act like they are anything more than a suburban development built on a grid."

If you define "suburban development" to mean those kinds of rules. But then by that definition many condo buildings (and even some Coops in NYC) are that are thoroughly, undeniably urban, are "suburban" I think the term you are looking for is not "suburban" but "bourgeois". CONU did not challenge the "bourgeois" model. It challenged the post war designs. It explicitly held up earlier forms such as street car suburbs (which were quite bourgeois) as models.

Saying that CONU was not revolutionary, because it did not establish an intentional housing or communal approach to housing, is like saying the American Revolution, or the French revolution of 1789, or the first phase of the revolutions of 1848, or the Russian February Revolution, were not revolutionary because they did not establish socialism.

And yes, I know some people would say precisely that. But I think they understand why those who do not share their ideological convictions DO call those events "revolutionary". I think its clear why those for whom overturning the bourgeois model of residential RE is not a goal, do consider Kentlands revolutionary.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 23, 2013 10:02 am • linkreport

This obsession with converting everyone into highrise dwellers is most bizarre. Some people might happen to like having a yard you know.

And the fits some people throw about 'social engineering' or 'converting' people into some forced living arrangement just because of the observation that some people like urban living, there's a market for it, and therefore we should allow more urban places to be built - is most bizzare.

It's also bizzare that a discussion about New Urbanism and the Kentlands triggers a retort about high rise living, when I don't believe there is a single structure in the Kentlands taller than four stories.

Truly bizzare.

by Alex B. on Aug 23, 2013 10:08 am • linkreport

" In our individualistic American culture, can we get to a place in which the car is not the focus while retaining house/condo ownership, or do we really need to rethink all of these conceptions of place and home in order to shift away from car-dependent living? In terms of ideology (which forms the basis of choices), I think it is complicated to ask or to expect one without the other when they've been so thoroughly connected in our history and emotional memory."

You are conflating a social ideology with a govt policy. A mix of individual home ownership with renting, with ownership the norm for the middle and upper class, and even in many places for the stable working class, predated govt policies subsidizing home ownership. Look at large cities in the US in the late 19th century - Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, etc. even NYC. The standard for middle class familes was the single family house, attached or detached. The streetcar enabled that for people slightly further down the income ladder, in the larger cities where it had been more difficult. Now there was evolution over that period - greater seperation of residence and workplace (probably driven more by changes in scale of business, at least at first) and after the limits on immigration and the increasing availability of appliances, a decline in the number of servants.

But that norm is old, and is hard to break. And its not clear that its necessary to break at.

As for the subsidies, they will be overturned, if they are, due to their cost, not due to ideology.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 23, 2013 10:10 am • linkreport

@ drumz - "Smart Growth, New Urbanism, GGW, lots of other orgs have never come close to adopting a position that posits putting everyone in a high rise and eliminating yards."

I was just reacting to the vibe of this article, which seems to imply some pressing need to convert suburbanites into urbanites.

by Chris S. on Aug 23, 2013 10:24 am • linkreport

I was just reacting to the vibe of this article, which seems to imply some pressing need to convert suburbanites into urbanites.

No, it doesn't.

Please quote a passage that talks about 'conversion' or any other forced action against someone's will. Please.

by Alex B. on Aug 23, 2013 10:27 am • linkreport

Chris S

many of us beleive that there are people who WOULD choose urbanism, if they were more familiar with its advantages. That does not mean we want to force everyone to that lifestyle (and of course by urbanism we don't mean hirises necessarily). Its more like here's something great, lets market it. Thats the American way.

We won't be knocking on doors telling you that urbanism will save your soul from hell.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Aug 23, 2013 10:28 am • linkreport

But there's nothing to back up that vibe. All there is are the words that people are using. Kentlands (or any other development) isn't about a value change from suburban to urban. It's about recognizing that design and form don't happen in a vacuum and you have to be intentional about the spaces you design. Moreover, we've always been intentional about what we've designed but just not incredibly honest about it. So many places (urban and suburban) are built for cars. Designing neighborhoods for pedestrians (at all density levels) may feel more urban sure but that's because its a recognition that public spaces matter. Kentlands has way more in common with Brookland (in the city) than with Tysons (in the suburbs).

So those vibes are meaningless compared to the strict definitions and precision that the theory behind places like kentlands provides.

by drumz on Aug 23, 2013 10:33 am • linkreport

my favorite part of the house hunters intl shows is the Americans who ship their cars to European cities in Spain, Germany, etc.

by Richard Layman on Aug 23, 2013 10:40 am • linkreport

Developments like Kentlands are only the tip of the iceberg for New Urbanism, because they are by far the most visible part of the movement, but what is below the surface is much larger.
I estimate that "new towns" or neighborhoods in the suburbs has comprised no more than a fifth of the work of new urbanists over the years. The rest, 80 percent, is transit-oriented development, public housing redevelopment, smaller infill projects, redevelopment of shopping malls, airports, and military bases, form-based codes, corridor redevelopments, complete streets, and comprehensive plans for cities, towns, and regions. That's a partial list.
Extending a critique of Kentlands to all of New Urbanism is inadequate, but the author makes a lot of good points. The external connectivity is poor because in the suburbs there is nothing to connect to, and that can only change through public policy. Kentlands' creation of a walkable neighborhood from scratch when every part of the real estate system was moving in the other direction is remarkable. The various codes and systems that new urbanists created to deal with that reality are too many to discuss here, but they informed all of their other work and have had a profound impact on cities and towns across America. So Kentlands' influence has been extensive, and it is not just about teaching suburbanites the value of living in a walkable place.
The author is right that New Urbanism in the suburbs is still important.

by Rob Steuteville on Aug 23, 2013 11:08 am • linkreport

It's important to look at Kentlands in context: 25 years ago, D.C. itself was a much less livable place. It's no surprise that NU's early successes were in the Sunbelt, which has much less old urban fabric to take advantage of -- and yes, the D.C. region is definitely "sunbelt" despite our location at the southern tip of the Acela. Due to job sprawl, there's still huge demand for "urban" building types in suburban locations, and this was completely ignored (or incredibly poorly designed) for decades.

As ujavitiz points out, New Urbanism has changed codes and regulations for the better. Old urbanism never had to deal with things like accommodating cars, and isn't able to synthesize any of the lessons that modernism did teach us. In many ways, Kentlands is still far ahead of the old urbanism: it had accessory dwellings from the start, whereas they're still illegal in D.C. (entirely because they upset the race, class, and gender norms of rich single-family neighborhoods).

Also, for the record, I am a left-wing, queer, atheist person of color living in a co-op in a neighborhood that is majority Black and with a poverty rate higher than DC's. Yet I have never understood why the academic left has always virulently attacked New Urbanism as being insufficiently revolutionary, and therefore reactionary in the worst way, while also turning a blind eye towards the status quo "everyday evil" of sprawl development. It's not as if America was headed towards a socialist utopia circa the early 1990s, a future that New Urbanism derailed by taking hold. If you want a good look at what the state of the art then was in architecture and planning -- hint: gated golf communities, offices and malls lining interstates, cars cars cars and more cars -- read Edge City or City of Quartz.

by Payton on Aug 23, 2013 5:03 pm • linkreport

"Old urbanism never had to deal with things like accommodating cars, and isn't able to synthesize any of the lessons that modernism did teach us. In many ways, Kentlands is still far ahead of the old urbanism: it had accessory dwellings from the start,"

Old urbanism did deal with cars. Certainly not the medeaval cities Sitte admired, but take a look at the last pre-modernist urbanism of John Nolen and the parking structures and parkways of the 1920's and 1930's. And old urbanism had accessory dwellings in alleys and above stores, precisely where many folks of color lived when they where excluded from living in the main street houses.

"Yet I have never understood why the academic left has always virulently attacked New Urbanism as being insufficiently revolutionary"

It has to do with the politics of academia but I agree with you, it's amazing that academia hasn't embraced the progressive values of NU. Power is a terrible thing to give up, I guess.

by Thayer-D on Aug 23, 2013 10:03 pm • linkreport

As an old urbanist I'm amazed how DC is concentrating too much on sports stadiums and enlarged freeways in the city instead of improved intra-urban transit. That's billions we waste that should have gone into restoring the streetcar system that DC depended on until the '60's.

It's as if many suburbs are trying to become more urban while DC is scared everyone's moving to PG county and we want to be more like PG county so they won't.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 25, 2013 10:44 am • linkreport

Birdie wrote: >>I was amazed watching house hunters yesterday at one man's insistence of a SFH in Key West even when he had the option of beach front property in a similarly sized condo.<<

I'm with the guy who wants a single family home. Condos mean that someone else is in charge of your life. Condo fees go up, you share walls with people you don't know and whose lifestyle may impact the enjoyment of your life (noise, tobacco odors, etc.), and other people get to tell you what to do with your property. No thanks!

by Dairy Maid on Aug 29, 2013 9:51 pm • linkreport

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