why do you hate New Urbanism?

Jan 10 '10 84 Last Comment
Jan 10, 10 7:54 pm

Just an honest question.

Personally, I like some of the projects in my area even if duany supposedly hates landscape architects.

Your thoughts please..
Jan 10, 10 8:26 pm

I LOVE New Urbanism. I HATE architecture.

Jan 10, 10 8:54 pm

new urbanism is ok until it starts to be retroactive to expressive contemporary architecture. Then them and their followers play ignorant. Prince of wales and Krier are a good example of that.

Jan 10, 10 8:57 pm

I was under the impression that 99.9% of architects (and LA's) hate NU. I cant say I 'love; it, but I think it's certainly one of the better responses to urban sprawl. That said, I certainly dont agree with formulaic solutions to every community design project.

Jan 10, 10 9:15 pm


Isn't that the essence of NU though? Retroactivity. I think I hear ya though. There's a more constrained space for experssionism in NU architecture. I think public space suffers to some degree as well, not so much the space but the articulation of that space. Maybe that's kind of what you're getting at in terms of the buildings.
Jan 10, 10 9:57 pm

you mean other than the fact that building communities in the middle of nowhere, that are slightly denser than the 'burbs is really a ridiculous practice? or that most NU inhabitants still rely almost as heavily on cars as suburbanites?

celebration and seaside are hardly models of any kind of urbanism, merely nostaligia for a non-existent suburbanism

Jan 10, 10 10:17 pm

we took a group of students to the kentlands and one of the students looked over to me and quietly said it seems nice, but it seems WEIRD!

i think the principles are not wrong, just the implimentation has been to wrapped up with style rather than what it really is proposing...
OLD URBAN planning.

which brings me to my final point...i really hate the name. there is nothing new--just NEO.

Jan 10, 10 10:35 pm

their "communities" are almost entirely funded by large corporate sponsors, which turns them into homogenous mall-like towns... think trying to recreate some of the most vibrant neighborhoods, except without independent local businesses or the people (and surrounding urban critical mass) who make these neighborhoods great - all in one or two years in the middle of nowhere with rich white people. go to place like celebration and it's all boring stores like the gap and starbucks and everyone drives to work someplace else, while people who work at the gap and starbucks cannot afford to live in these communities.

I have nothing against their views on neighborhood density - especially when it comes to infill development - but their ground-up satellite community building and their practitioners' insistence on overly rigid traditional vernacular is off-putting to many people, myself included.

btw - "the truman show" was filmed in seaside.

Jan 10, 10 10:38 pm


Exactly. I agree 100%. Neo-Urbanism..then agin the urbanism part IS probably still open for debate.


I see your point. I heard a lecture in this regard at UCD a few months ago where the lecturer referred to this as 'dense sprawl.' I like that term.

The DPZ project 'prospect new town' here in longmont is what I would consider a pretty interesting form of 'semi-dense suburban infill...sprawl.' It is in relatively close proximity to basic servies and contains some of its own, it's wlkabale, quaint, and stylistically feels pretty unique and interesting.

I'm not a big fan of Stapleton on the other hand, but appreciate the effort and consideration for what the designers clahtorpe, edaw were probably working with.

Jan 10, 10 10:49 pm


You mke some very good points that I never realized.

Jan 10, 10 11:12 pm

Ugly is generally the first thing that comes to mind. Ugly and fake.

BUT, brilliant marketing campaign. "New Urbanism" has become a phrase that no development with a mixed program can be marketed without.

There are some valid/interesting points, though.

I was just at Prospect a few weeks ago. Wacky wacky wacky!! The styles feel so incredibly forced, no elegance to any of it. The streets are nice with trees, but it made me a little dizzy looking at every architectural "style" forced onto a tiny, tiny lot.

Fake and ugly immediately came to mind, although I will admit there were a few buildings that were interesting. Just looks like it was thrown together in a weekend by a first yr undergrad student.

Stapleton at least feels a little more spacious.

won and done williams
Jan 10, 10 11:18 pm

we're still talking about this?

Jan 11, 10 12:43 am


yeah totally, how new urbanism addresses modernity is something that always really bugs me. Urbanism can be traditional, but when it starts affecting building design... i dunno, seems so restricted. they did try to do "modern" at Aqua...Also their developments don't always address transit issues as best they could. Peter Calthorpe is a person who does that pretty well.

I think they chose to call it "New Urbanism" to be ironic, after all DPZ gave an honoary doctorate to Robert Venturi from the University of Miami.

Jan 11, 10 11:27 am

jaf - IMO - even though "new urbanism" has been universally panned by the architecture community, they are part of an important movement (along with "smart growth") in development and planning over the past couple decades. It's worth debating because they've been far more influential (for better or worse) than we chose to realize.

for example: "lifestyle centers" are a direct result of new urbanist principles... even though many new urbanists try to disassociate themselves from these glorified strip malls, they do represent the most negative side of the movement.

However - they've done a lot to promote "walkable" neighborhoods, central civic spaces to unite communities, cluster development around transit, and attempts to limit sprawl.

the aesthetic criticisms are the most well-known, however my biggest criticism of new urbanism is that they seem to be looking back to a very specific era in town planning - namely the late-19th century new-england garden suburb - and trying to recreate it without any real regard to our current culture and society - and region.

Jan 11, 10 12:10 pm

New Urbanism has some good concepts (which are really about "old urbanism" or at least 1910s and 1920s urbanism, updated for contemporary transportation requirements). I don't hate it.

What I detest are the Kunstleresque incarnations of New Urbanism where urbanism is equated with neo-traditionalism - or at least a facade-deep simulacra of neo-traditionalism.

If you shear away socio-political and aesthetic proscriptivism from New Urbanism, very little remains too objectionable. The problem is when these projects become socially and aesthetically deterministic.

The other problem is: how well new urbanism works for existing cities or as a regional solution. Clearly, you can use the principles of new urbanism for a subset of projects but does a collection of new urbanist developments pr redevelopment really equate to a city? Would it even by economically viable?

Jan 11, 10 12:20 pm

I assume that everybody is familiar with the Kunstler propaganda pages (his "eyesore of the month" club)?

I think he has half the MIT campus on his permanent blacklist.

His is the knee-jerk type of new urbanism that I have issues with.

won and done williams
Jan 11, 10 12:38 pm

i'm not saying that new urbanism is not relevant. i'm just saying a conversation about whether we like or dislike new urbanism has been on going for twenty or thirty years. after all this time, it seems like new urbanism is merely a fact of life rather something one likes or dislikes.

as a movement, i would say it has lost most of its steam due to its own success; it's hard to get all rah-rah for something that is fairly normative, but then again, i don't go to the cnu.

le bossman
Jan 11, 10 12:41 pm

yeah i myself was just thinking that hating new urbanism has become rather passe

Jan 11, 10 1:31 pm


Oh I don't know. I remember a job (as in project) interview from a year ago where one of our team members said in his presentation, "We are a proudly new urbanist firm" and several people on the public-sector client's side got up and applauded.. of course, it was for a project in Virginia so maybe it doesn't or shouldn't count.

Jan 11, 10 1:31 pm

That's team member - as in a subcontractor. We are NOT, emphatically, a new urbanist firm, of course.

Jan 11, 10 1:49 pm


Very astute observations. I agree 100%.

I think the basis of new urban planning is a good response to sprawl. It seems like much of what a lot of you are particularly opposed to is the asthetic, which in my opinion is less important, but certainly not irrelevant by any means.

I also like the comment regarding the effectiveness of many NU projects as being sensitive or insesnsitive to context.

Keunstler (sp) is kind of pushing the sociopolitical undertones of the old urbanism movement. I used to like his writing, and still appreciate at it to some degree, but it's pretty evident that he lacks a keen sense for basic architectural design and problem solving. I dont think every building should look like an early 20th century/late 19th century victorian whether it be in boston or denver. I do think, from a planning scale NU is getting closer to a more, dare I say the word, sustainable solution to sprawl, but then again, it's only ONE solution.

The planning side is what I'm most interested and particularly how it can be translated or adapted to a landscape syensitive approach to planning or what some are calling landscape urbanism.

Jan 11, 10 1:52 pm


sorry to bring it back up. I'm still pretty green to all this being a recent grad in landscape. So there again, I'm also looking at this from a different point of view than yourself or much of the other members here.

Jan 11, 10 4:29 pm

The problem with new urbanism is that it tries to intentionally create, out of fresh, whole cloth, a type of community life that can only really grow up organically, over time, and on its own. The type of communities that new urbanists revere and want to somehow copy were formed by the nexus of hundreds of independent decisions that aggregated over time to form a community. This process simply cannot be truly replicated via a 2-year fury of construction. Not only that, but the new urbanists are trying to create a cleaned-up, stylized version of the communities they supposedly revere : a new community, one that supposedly includes a range of individuals happily co-existing, but without the 'unfortunate' side-effects of individual autonomy. No crappy hand-lettered signage hanging outside the convience store. No flyers pasted to the lamposts. No vagrants loitering. No shuttered buildings here and there, or vacant storefronts. No aging apartment buildings with real wood trim but plumbing systems that back up sewage when the rains are heavy. No dogshit in front of my apartment building (there are dogparks for that!). For that matter, very few apartment buildings. The people who want to live in these communities are people who, despite the local deli-owner's putting up a sandwich counter and a notice board for community events, will still drive to the Whole Foods in the next town because it has a better selection.

You can't simply "plant" a precious new town and expect it to be non-homogenous, mixed-use, and to provide all the services and functions of a long-standing community in one go. This is suburbanism that pats itself on the back for moving the house up to a 5' front setback and putting a porch on the front. It's a nice gesture, but everyone's driving straight into the garage at the back anyway -- because the neighborhood didn't grow up organically around a transportation nexus. It didn't start from the principle of an existing transport system and grow a community of walkers outward from that point. It started from the standpoint of surburban life and then tried to dress it up in the garb of the small-town community.

The new urbanists are trying to mimic the outward signs of community life (or at least, their cleaned-up, purified, imaginary version of it) without laying down the groundwork, creating the conditions for that life to slowly occur over time.

Granted, what they do build is better than the vast majority of suburban planning -- so I don't criticize them for trying. I've spent time in these communities; they are 10x better than, say, Joliet, IL. With time, the new urbanist communities will hopefully (and with the help of a little necessary decay here and there) begin to evolve into real and lasting communities (although with their dependence on the car, it will be hard for them to ever become truly mixed communities). But it seems to me that they miss the heart and soul of the equation, which dooms them to a life of mimcry rather than vitality.

Jan 11, 10 4:37 pm

By the way, I agree with Urbanist and toasteroven above.

It's not even the principles of NU that I have a problem with -- I was excited, as a surburbanite, when I first read the manifesto of the CNU -- it's more the empty implementation, which relegates any good ideas to the back seat as back-ward thinking developers adopt the bits that suit their ROI. For example : increased density -- great! Organization around transit... "well that means we have to support mass transit, but mass transit means our property values will drop, and we've been fighting the government to oppose it for years. Ixnay on the transit, then. Moving on..." The NU communities I've been in have paid lip service to the idea of a walkable community but the reality is that if you give everyone 2-car heated garages in the back, nice wide streets, and no transit, and this development is built on a greenfield site off the freeway and miles from the office parks that all your upscale professional home-buyers work in, then you're going to get a car-dependent community with zero activity on the sidewalks.

Jan 11, 10 4:38 pm

Larchinect, good for you for trying to see all sides, by the way. May I ask what NU communities you're familiar with in your local area? I'm curious.

Jan 11, 10 4:53 pm

"The problem with new urbanism is that it tries to intentionally create, out of fresh, whole cloth, a type of community life that can only really grow up organically, over time, and on its own."

This is true, of course, but it is developers and governments who WANT to create large, monolithic new developments, not NUists or even architects generally. These developments will be built anyway, regardless of whether their designs are based on New urbanist principles or not. People need housing - LOTS of housing, they need it quickly and cheaply, and the suburbs have the land for that housing. "organically" growing these new communities sounds great on paper, but then developers won't make money and we won't have enough places to live.

IMO, the more relevant question is whether New Urbanism results in a marginally better and more sustainable placemaking than the other alternatives, for these types of mass-housing/minimally mixed-use/non-organic developments - such as the automobile modernism of places like Milton Keynes UK, Almere Netherlands, Columbia Maryland, Reston Virginia, or Mission Viejo California - all equally sterile new communities developed without subscription to New Urbanism

Does the mimicry and simulacra of new urbanism create a marginally better version of this particular type of animal than do the other models available to us? Is there a better way to create developments that, of economic necessity, require the simultaneous production of thousands of housing units and associated services, cheaply, in a given place, over short timeframes?

I don't know the answers, but I don't think that the fact such developments are built has anything to do with new urbanism per se.

Jan 11, 10 6:09 pm

new urbanism smells of EIFS!

tranz kafka
Jan 11, 10 6:25 pm

no! new urbanism smells of SEX!

Jan 11, 10 6:46 pm

New Urbanism:

tranz kafka
Jan 11, 10 6:50 pm

Mo new wives!

le bossman
Jan 11, 10 7:02 pm

i don't even think most architects get new urbanism. i'm not a new urbanism guy myself, but it's about the public spaces, not the style of the architecture. there isn't a good reason why new urbanist schemes couldn't accomodate architecture of any style.

Jan 11, 10 7:23 pm

le bossman, in theory, you're right... but read Duany or Kunstler or even Krier (as intellectual pre-cursor) and you'll very quickly reslize that vernacularization through neo-traditionalism is actually a core tenet for some New Urbanist theorists.

My point is that if you remove some of the more troublesome aspects (the socio-cultural engineering and the vernacularization) then what's left isn't that bad.

Jan 11, 10 7:29 pm

le bossman-

Yes, I agree. I'm a little surprised by all the comments that seem to be directed at the architecture. In my mind, the architectural style is far lees important in terms of sustainable growth and smart development than the planning and consideration for public space.


Thanks. Though I sort of disagree with part of your statement regarding NUists and the development business. If you've followed any of my recent posts here you'd know that I'm not so happy with my current position. Admittedly, I think I'm working for a 'sprawler.' But really, my position is not very different than my boss at this point. I work for him, doing things I dont necessarily agree with (in fact, it's often like pulling teeth out of my skull). My boss works for farmers and cowboys come developers who leverage their willingness to give him work in exchange for a probably lower than average fees and a fair amount of control of the design. Still, it isn't necessarily my bosses 'fault' for taking the work. After all, if not us, someone else would do it, and right now we're probably one of the very few office in this region getting any new work. Bottom line-I gotta do what I gotta do even if I hate the work we're turning out. believe me I've pushed as much as I can with my limited experience to try new things. Its just a matter of time before I'm out of here frankly.

In general though I think we're in agreement.


Ever been to Colorado? You'd probably be sick driving the I-25 corridor.

Jan 11, 10 7:43 pm

This blog is hilarous

It came accompanied with the following photo (dunno where it comes from);

Jan 11, 10 7:53 pm

I dont think that blogger really 'gets it' though either. The author seems confused over the relative urbanism of a proposed california agricultural community. I think you could file planning around viable agricultural preservation as good 'regional planning' not necessarily good new urbanism, but maybe urbanism on a larger scale.

Jan 11, 10 7:54 pm

'preserving viable agricultural land' is maybe what I meant there..

Jan 11, 10 7:59 pm

There are, however, worse ways to produce mass housing:

Pyongyang Government Worker Housing

Dutch VINEX housing

..or just life in hell

Jan 11, 10 9:13 pm

just stumbled across this:

Beyond Neo-Victorianism

disclosure - I was at the 4th congress on new urbanism almost a decade ago where Duany kept calling the now defunct architecture magazine "ar-shit" (as it only said "archit" across the cover) while the then editor Reed Kroloff criticized Duany's insistence on traditional vernacular even though he admitted that he agreed with many of new urbanism's main principles. exasperated with Duany, Kroloff ended the debate with some language I'd rather never repeat - let's just say it involves a sexual act that until recently was illegal in many states - and yet somehow Duany still came off as the bigger asshole.

two issues - I think if Duany wasn't so insistent on this superficial replication of traditional architectural styles he'd have far more support among the architecture community. Duany is also one of those people who you are either with or are against - he seems incapable of accepting constructive criticism, and has a penchant for name-calling and baiting people into arguing with him. Since he's made new urbanism essentially about the cult of Duany, people tend to react more to Duany's personality than the larger group of people who are working with and expanding upon his ideas.

Jan 11, 10 9:54 pm

New Urbanism is for yuppies!

It isn't even urban! It is rural, on a conveyor belt.

Jan 11, 10 10:43 pm

'New Urbanism is for yuppies!

It isn't even urban! It is rural, on a conveyor belt.'


That's just kind of a dumb random comment.

Jan 12, 10 8:43 am

It's perscriptive rather than descriptive. In practice, the New Urbanist fatally mistakes ends and means. Which, ironically, is exactly what the jargon and mantra professes to dislike.

vado retro
Jan 12, 10 9:08 am

can you have new urbanism without old urbanism? ie it appears that for "new urbanism" to be effective in the manner in which its concepts were developed, new communities need to aggregate like barnuckles on existing conditions taking advantage of infrastructure and amenities which create a contiguous and varied fabric rather than develop autonomously. frankly, i don't care about using traditional/vernacular architecture if it is honest in its construction and not some pastiched fypon pretension.

t a m m u z
Jan 12, 10 9:39 am

shiny happy architectures.

something puzzlingly contradictory about new urbanist architectures. although stylistically, alludes to history but still comes across as being ahistorical... spur-of-the-moment historically stylized architectural ice-cream scoop, a stroll through a candy parlour. i don't mind that; dulcet americana, short history..dream of home and hearth...fresh pram....dabbling in europeanisms minus old world doom and gloom ....howdy neighbour...smiles with dental plans/ neurotic parents, drugged children, suicide, basement makeshift graveyards, sleepless wife impotent husband, loveless lackluster licentious, desolation in the midst of adolescents' gang bang, child abuse in front of the cartoons...enough david lynch already! happens everywhere!

i follow with my eyes 'til they crash
imagine what my body would sound like
slamming against those rocks
again, bjork

liberty bell
Jan 12, 10 9:46 am

vado is right - well-done vernacular, without covenants that restrict varied styles including contemporary, is fine.

I think if Duany wasn't so insistent on this superficial replication of traditional architectural styles he'd have far more support among the architecture community.

Totally agree, toasteroven.

Mantaray also hits a very important issue: a compact, walkable community in the middle of nowhere without sufficient local employment opportunities for its residents means they will be just as car-dependent every day as people who live in a regular sprawly development. And if the homes are expensive, the baristas at the in-development cafe won't be able to live there, so they'll drive in and park.

Outside Naptown we have West Clay. I despise going there, and whenever I do I feel veritably certain that there are security cameras on every garage tracking my not-registered-in-this-zip-code car as I drive by. It's like driving into a shopping mall - it's apparently "public", but in fact very, very private.

t a m m u z
Jan 12, 10 9:48 am

i liked Candilicious, they have a branch of it in dubai. colours and sweets. i wonder how many miseries span cross continentally behind the making of each of the sweets. urbanism housing can contain as much sadness as aything else. at least they have a roof and walls and toilet/s and kitchens and a place to park their heart in for the night.

t a m m u z
Jan 12, 10 9:58 am

a cardboard collage of the best bits of europe, WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?

Jan 12, 10 10:07 am

I had a New Urbanist studio instructor (in undergrad) and it was the best studio that I ever had! If you separate the typical architectural aesthetic away from the theories and practices of New Urbanism, you can see that they deserve credit for being "urbanists". If you don't think the projects labeled "New Urbanist" are dense enough; that is one thing. But that's not a question of being an "urbanism". You can apply the methods to multiple types of projects by studying the context, densities, concentrations, patterns, programs, etc, and it can really enrich the planning of any project.

I think the problem that New Urbanism has faced is being pigeon-holed and they have pigeon-holed themselves by creating a universal theory. They generated strong methods and their problem is that they have only really applied it to mixed use, urban planning projects (where the architecture is simply a minimal, usually poor, reference to some aesthetic vernacular). Since architects naturally cross paths with New Urbanism, they see the projects and they think it is garbage without having actual knowledge of what it is about. There aren't many pretty pictures in New Urbanism.

vado retro
Jan 12, 10 10:36 am

west clay developers will tell you that they are not technically new urbanist since they don't have the density. i was there twice to work on a house that never happened. and i represented the place i used to work for at the developer's anniversery party which was held at The Ronald Reagan Green which made me throw up in my mouth a little and one of the owner's was a lawyer for Nixon. WTF??????

Jan 12, 10 10:37 am

from vado :

to be effective in the manner in which its concepts were developed, new communities need to aggregate like barnuckles on existing conditions taking advantage of infrastructure and amenities which create a contiguous and varied fabric rather than develop autonomously.

exactly, exactly, exactly, exactly.

I think I might have been misunderstood above (except by liberty bell) -- my problem isn't with the architectural style, it's with the planning and conception of the neighborhoods themselves. The qualities of urbanism that the NU adherents are trying to achieve are not qualities that can be mass-manufactured in a short-period of time, out in the middle of nowhere. I'd be interested in finding out, for example, if any of the NU communities have achieved actual economic diversity in their residents.

In fact, like others here, I don't mind vernacular styling when it's done right. In the same vein, I dislike 'contemporary' or 'modernist' styling when it's NOT done right. Style is style -- I'm interested in the spaces created, in the proportions, the massing, etcetera.

On the subject of landscaping, since you asked Larchinect -- I can't say I've studied this in NU communities, so my comment is only a general one rather than an informed one, but personally I find myself dismayed at the general lack of free, open, "rough" "natural" space left in this world. You don't have to have a baseball diamond or a flat square of grass with a tree border to have a "park". I'm so tired of us boxing out special little areas and calling them "parks" and then razing the terrain, planting them with drab plantings and scratchy grass, and pouring cement sidewalks all over the place. Where's the fun in that?

In my hometown, there's a stretch of ravine that (thankfully) was too steep and deep for anyone to ever do anything with. We called it "africa" and played for most of our childhoods down there -- it was literally the only natural vegetation left in our community. Last time I was home, I found out that the citizens of the town are voting to have that area turned into a "dog park". What, you can't just walk your dog in the natural terrain?! No, we need to BUILD a DOG PARK! It makes me sick. I see elements of this same thinking in that Vancouver plan from Duany that Urbanist linked to above.

Jan 12, 10 11:01 am

I think some of my criticisms may be more correctly applied to the existing implementation of NU rather than the ideals themselves. (The lack of transit for example.) I'll have to go re-read the CNU stuff at some point and refresh my memory. Been a long time since I did research on this. Generally I find building a fresh new town and expecting it to be a diverse insta-community is an impossibility. Why build new, "better" communities in the first place... why not just fix up the old ones, add density there? Instead we let the old decay in emptiness while constantly searching for the new and better. This is especially frustrating in the case of NU when the "new and better" is actually a desire for the things we already have, but built somewhere else, somewhere prettier, and where yucky old townsfolk haven't already lived. Meanwhile the existing communities crumble.

Jan 12, 10 11:02 am

I've tried to read through this all, but I'll admit I'm not up on the jargon and at some points I had to start skimming... Anywho, I was wondering (if this hasn't been addressed already) what folks thought about New Urbanism applied to old urbs? Where I'm currently situated, Beloit, WI., a staunch CNU'er/Economics Department chair heads the private regional economic development group 'Vision Beloit.' They seem to be doing pretty well. The town, not more than four years ago, was a dump. With a murky river lined with derelict ironworks factories, and a completely deserted downtown (with a thriving WalMart/Menards/Applebees populated strip off the highway about 6 miles from town center), was the most depressing place I'd ever been. But even with the economic downturn, under the initiatives undertaken by Vision Beloit (basically incentivising the rebuilding/refilling/reskinning [to an aesthetic combining early 1900's and contemporary styles] of downtown and increasing the amount of local attractions and festivities), this place has seen a drastic improvement, and looks to be on track for continued positive development.
Well, on to the point, what about CNU reforms for an old town? Will it work? The town boomed during the architectural period the CNU seems to love, so the look of the downtown fits their ideal image quite well, plus it's been lived in and worn down to fit the local culture for a good century and a half. Things look good from my entirely uninformed perspective, especially compared to the East Berlin look and financials the town was sporting when I first got here. But again, I'm ignorant.

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