New Urbanism

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New urbanism is a design movement which began in the 1980s in response to the rapidly increasing urban sprawl in the United States.  Taking its inspiration from developments done before the rise of the automobile it promotes mixed, walkable communities that are easy on the environment, pleasant to live in and aesthetically pleasing.

An umbrella organisation was founded a decade later in 1993.  The Congress for New Urbanism laid out the main principles of the movement in its charter.  These specifically include that attention should be paid to local history, ecology, architecture and climate.

New urbanism's aim is to design neighbourhoods where housing and jobs are close to each other and where most facilities are within walking distance.  Rather than vast tracts of housing, miles from workplaces, schools, shops and recreational facilities new urbanism promotes very diverse communities with all of these included in the same area.

Each community is designed to be compact, with a defined centre and edge.  This is similar in fact to how small towns and urban communities naturally developed before the rise of suburbia.  The land use should be mixed, with places to shop, work, be educated and enjoy your free time all within walking distance of homes. 

Even the corridors linking one community to another are intended to be attractive and practical.  Rather than huge, plain, freeways designed for automobiles and automobiles only, these connections could include natural landscape features such as rivers, and provide realistic alternatives to driving. 

You might already be lucky enough to live in a place that has most of the features of new urbanism but in fact dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  Small towns the world over are naturally already like this.  There are countless examples of small, relatively poor, former industrial towns where everything is within walking distance, and are now full of parks, trees and wildlife habitats.  

There is no reason why new developments shouldn’t have all these advantages, combined with all the advantages of conventional suburbia.  Communities on a human scale yet close to big cities, and so all the job opportunities and resources these provide, are perfectly possible, and some have already appeared.

The problems of suburbanisation are become more and more apparent, with the associated impact on the environment, increase in stress, and community isolation.  New urbanism appears to be a way forward for urban developments.  Possibly the one thing to be avoided with new urbanism is making buildings just that little bit too cute, which seems to be the main criticism of certain developments.  However its general principles are sensible and realistic.

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