Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The New Suburbanism

Smart Growth And Mixed Use Combine To Revitalize "Downtown"

They call it creating a sense of place; a livable, walkable, workable community where residential, retail and recreational space come together, seamlessly, as brownfields give way to the new suburbia.

New Urbanism, or what we on Long Island may choose to call, New Suburbanism, is both a bold and innovative concept of recent vintage, and a mainstay of "downtown" and "Main Street" development that has its roots in the old world vision of European cities.

The Congress for New Urbanism (CNU), founded in 1993 by a group of entusiastic architects, "advocates the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, ...and the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy."

CNU, which has a presence in 20 countries and 49 states, promotes the creation and maintenance of what has come to be known as "sustainable communities."

"Sustainable communities?" Hmmm. We've heard that catch phrase before in these parts. Yet, go out and find us a true "sustainable community" on our Long Island, where, with rare exception, "smart growth" remains the consummate oxymoron.

The principles of the New Urbanism, as espoused by CNU and others of their visionary ilk, seek to combine, in appropriate scale, the following elements:

1. Walkability - Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work-Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows & doors; tree-lined streets; on street parking; hidden parking lots; garages in rear lane; narrow, slow speed streets) -Pedestrian streets free of cars in special cases;

2. Connectivity - Interconnected street grid network disperses traffic & eases walking-A hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards, and alleys-High quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable;

3. Mixed-Use & Diversity - A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings-Diversity of people - of ages, income levels, cultures, and races;

4. Mixed Housing - A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity;

5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design - Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place; Special placement of civic uses and sites within community. Human scale architecture & beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit;

6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure - Discernable center and edge-Public space at center-Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art-Contains a range of uses and densities within 10-minute walk-Transect planning: Highest densities at town center; progressively less dense towards the edge. The transect is an analytical system that conceptualizes mutually reinforcing elements, creating a series of specific natural habitats and/or urban lifestyle settings. The Transect integrates environmental methodology for habitat assessment with zoning methodology for community design. The professional boundary between the natural and man-made disappears, enabling environmentalists to asses the design of the human habitat and the urbanists to support the viability of nature. This urban-to-rural transect hierarchy has appropriate building and street types for each area along the continuum;

7. Increased Density - More buildings, residences, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.-New Urbanism design principles are applied at the full range of densities from small towns, to large cities;

8. Smart Transportation - A network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighborhoods together-Pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation;

9. Sustainability - Minimal environmental impact of development and its operations-Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and value of natural systems-Energy efficiency-Less use of finite fuels-More local production-More walking, less driving;

10. Quality of Life - Taken together these add up to a high quality of life well worth living, and create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit.

Now, how many of these qualities describe the community you live in? Not many, we presume.

Yes, the vision appears high-falutin, pie in the sky -- particularly for a region where "can do" too often takes a back seat to "wait and see" -- and yet, it has been and continues to be done, in both urban and suburban settings previously thought to be too far gone for revitalization.

Seaside, Florida, while a far cry from the shores of Freeport, New York, was the proving ground for the New Urbanism. Closer to home, although a decidedly more urban setting, Battery Park City found it's portal to renewal through the process of vision coupled with intelligent design.

You don't have to travel to Florida or trek into the city to see "downtown" revitalization at work. Click HERE to see just some of the accomplishments of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association.

Check out, too, I'ON, near Charleston, SC; Glenwood Park, at the edge of downtown Atlanta; Addison Circle in Dallas; and Pearl District in Portland, OR. New towns incorporating old ideas, revisited and recasted to fit our modern lifestyle. Each community facing its own special challenges.

Lest anyone think that one has to start anew -- building a new suburbia from the ground up -- remember Lincoln Road in what is now South Beach. A sprawling stretch of decay, decline and desolation is today considered one of the greatest pedestrian streets in America. Lined from one end to the other (nearly 10 blocks long) with cafes, international restaurants, fine shops, art galleries, cinemas, theaters, and entertainment set among beautiful fountains and lush tropical gardens.

"Oh, it will never happen here." Ah, the words of a true Long Island naysayer. Yes, it CAN happen here, IF we want it to happen here. It is up to us, as true advocates and activists, to MAKE IT HAPPEN!

And just what are the benefits of this New Urbanism? They are many and varied.

1. BENEFITS TO RESIDENTS: Higher quality of life; Better places to live, work, & play; Higher, more stable property values; Less traffic congestion & less driving; Healthier lifestyle with more walking, and less stress; Close proximity to main street retail & services; Close proximity to bike trails, parks, and nature; Pedestrian friendly communities offer more opportunities to get to know others in the neighborhood and town, resulting in meaningful relationships with more people, and a friendlier town; More freedom and independence to children, elderly, and the poor in being able to get to jobs, recreation, and services without the need for a car or someone to drive them; Great savings to residents and school boards in reduced busing costs from children being able to walk or bicycle to neighborhood schools; More diversity and smaller, unique shops and services with local owners who are involved in community; Big savings by driving less, and owning less cars; Less ugly, congested sprawl to deal with daily; Better sense of place and community identity with more unique architecture; More open space to enjoy that will remain open space; More efficient use of tax money with less spent on spread out utilities and roads;

2. BENEFITS TO BUSINESSES: Increased sales due to more foot traffic & people spending less on cars and gas; More profits due to spending less on advertising and large signs; Better lifestyle by living above shop in live-work units - saves the stressful & costly commute; Economies of scale in marketing due to close proximity and cooperation with other local businesses; Smaller spaces promote small local business incubation; Lower rents due to smaller spaces & smaller parking lots; Healthier lifestyle due to more walking and being near healthier restaurants; More community involvement from being part of community and knowing residents;

3. BENEFITS TO DEVELOPERS: More income potential from higher density mixed-use projects due to more leasable square footage, more sales per square foot, and higher property values and selling prices; Faster approvals in communities that have adopted smart growth principles resulting in cost/time savings; Cost savings in parking facilities in mixed-use properties due to sharing of spaces throughout the day and night, resulting in less duplication in providing parking; Less need for parking facilities due to mix of residences and commercial uses within walking distance of each other; Less impact on roads / traffic, which can result in lower impact fees; Lower cost of utilities due to compact nature of New Urbanist design; Greater acceptance by the public and less resistance from NIMBYS; Faster sell out due to greater acceptance by consumers from a wider product range resulting in wider market share;

4. BENEFITS TO MUNICIPALITIES: Stable, appreciating tax base; Less spent per capita on infrastructure and utilities than typical suburban development due to compact, high-density nature of projects; Increased tax base due to more buildings packed into a tighter area; Less traffic congestion due to walkability of design; Less crime and less spent on policing due to the presence of more people day and night; Less resistance from community; Better overall community image and sense of place; Less incentive to sprawl when urban core area is desirable; Easy to install transit where it's not, and improve it where it is; Greater civic involvement of population leads to better governance.

It would seem that we have much to consider and to think about as we envsion that new suburbia -- the rebirth of our business districts in a symbiotic marriage with a reinvigorated residential community. Mixed use, smart growth, the New Urbanism, and that old "can do" spirit that truly becomes community most.

A lot to think about, indeed. Even more, beyond the visioning process and away from the drafting table, to actually do. Yes, DO! And a word to the wise -- and the perpetually complacent -- that we best get to it, moving beyond the talk, the platitudes, the surveys, polls, and the Q & A sessions, lest another year in suburbia, and the real opportunity to reinvent it, pass us by!
- - -
Click HERE to download the SMART CODE.
Click HERE to learn more about New Urbanism and Smart Growth.
Click HERE for a look at Sustainable Long Island.
Click HERE to take that vision to the next level with Vision Long Island.
SEE ALSO, Whatever Happened To "Operation Downtown?"
- - -
Next on the "TO DO" list - Become an activist for the cause in your local civic association. Enlist your neighbors, friends, and local elected officials in the continuing struggle to take back our town!
- - -
By the way, we'd love to hear your thoughts, comments and ideas. A Guest Blog, anyone? Planners, suburban designers, and friends of smart growth and sustainable communities are particularly welcome to put it here, in our sustainable online community! Write us at
- - -
COMING UP: You Can Get There From Here!

No comments:

Post a Comment