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New Urbanism, Old Urbanism and “Creative Destruction”

7:39 AM PDT on June 12, 2009

As you probably know, the Congress for the New Urbanism is holding its annual meeting out in Denver this week. Today on the Streetsblog Network, we've got a post from member Joe Urban (a.k.a. writer Sam Newberg) that talks about the real-life impact of the "new urbanist"
approach to planning in that city, and the importance of conveying that
impact to the public when trying to implement similar planning
approaches elsewhere.

2234248103_4ffbde6dea.jpgPoster children for the new urbanism in Denver's Stapleton neighborhood. Photo by EPA Smart Growth.

Newberg writes about touring Denver's Stapleton
neighborhood in 2003 with a group of other planning nerds, admiring the
development patterns there, when the whole thing came to life for him:

We were passing a small pocket park whensuddenly a young mother emerged from her house, dog and preschooldaughter in tow, to let the two run around in the grass. Everyone inour tour immediately wheeled around to photograph an actual human beingusing and apparently enjoying new urbanism. I felt embarrassed for her,with 40 of us planning geeks photographing her dog take a pee.…

Ofcourse, she doesn’t care that it is new urbanism. She probably values anice new home across the street from a park. For all I know, the mix ofhousing types, local school to which they can walk, nearby town center,and sidewalks were trivial to her. It was striking to me, for all thetime we spend planning and dreaming up visions of how places might someday look and function, was how seemingly off guard we were to see agreat plan being used the way it was intended, by JoAnne Urban, andwith so little apparent thought.

Perhaps that is what isso important about getting new urbanism, and good urban development ingeneral, built. Vision and leadership. The mayor of Charlotte, NorthCarolina, Patrick McCrory, spoke last night at the CNU’s opening“plenary.” After buttering us all up with compliments about our work,he leveled with us.

He said you can’t just create somedesigns and put them in a book that 99% of the public, including citycouncils and mayors, cannot understand. Show them how it will look.Sell a vision. Give the public an example like the young mom atStapleton, stepping off her front porch and crossing a narrow street toan intimate neighborhood park to let her dog and kid run around, andsuddenly you get public support. Leave the details to the planners andarchitects.

Of course, Denver is still the exception rather than the rule in American development. Today at The Urbanophile,
Aaron Renn writes about the principle of "creative destruction" as it
relates to Midwestern cities that have fallen into steep decline:

Entireindustries that used to exist now no longer do. Companies that failedto reinvent themselves for a new era often failed. This had both afinancial and human toll. There's no need for Midwesterners to dwelltoo much on this as they know it all too well from personal experienceor front line observation.

What's true for companies andmarkets also seems to be true of places as well. Most Midwestern citieswould appear to no longer have that much economic relevance. They aresustained primarily on inertia and legacy economies that are in a stateof decline. The challenge for them is to reinvent themselves for a newcentury and a new world.

Thisisn't easy. Reinventing yourself requires letting go of what it is youidentify as core to what you do today -- never easy in the best oftimes, and particularly difficult in a place like the Midwest. Midwestcities need, more than anything, a game plan for making themselvesrelevant to the people and businesses who will be fueling the 21stcentury...

This is the real challenge. To come up with theright approach to create a viable niche the modern economy. Withoutthis, too many places are simply going to end up like buggy whipmanufacturers. Cities, like companies, can become obsolete. And thetoll will be large in human, financial, and environmental costs.

Itis imperative that there be a vision for change that is serious,relevant, and championed by community leadership. This can meanpolitical leadership such as that from Mayor Daley of Chicago, who hasbeen a tireless champion and promoter for Chicago's transformation. Itcould also come from other sources too, such as leadership from amotivated business community. But whatever the source of it, it has tocome from somewhere.

Looking for something
a little lighter to carry you into the weekend? Got to love the story
of the NYC subway conductor who delivered a baby on the R train the
other day. We bring it to you via Transit Blogger.

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