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Monday, June 21, 2004

Got Neighborhood?

Whit Stillman, who's moved from the old urbanism of Manhattan to the older urbanism of Paris, asked for a definition of New Urbanism.

The short answer is that New Urbanism is about the making of walkable neighborhoods.

The short answer implies 3 things, all necessary for a walkable neighborhood:

1) There are places to walk to. That means the neighborhood has mixed uses, with stores and offices as well as houses and apartments.

Lon Krier's definition of good urbanism is that you can buy a good cup of coffee within 5 minutes of walking out your front door.

2) That the neighborhood is, to use a horribly overused word, "sustainable." That also has a few implications. The first is that you can fulfill most of your daily needs without getting in a car. If the town or village is isolated, there should be a train station or streetcar: in America, only the poor and the real urbanite will use buses on a regular basis. All of this requires a mix of incomes, so that there is a mix of society and workers.

If everyone has to drive to work everyday, the neighborhood is not sustainable in the long run. The United States has approximately 4% of the world's population but accounts for over 30% of its daily energy use. Most of this is due to our cars and our large, single-family houses. We are selling this way of life to China, which has approximately 20% of the world's population, and the rest of southeast Asia.

Either we will fight many more oil wars, or our way of life will become unaffordable.

3) People want to walk. That requires safe, beautiful streets. Pedestrians need sidewalks and protection from speeding cars, AND interesting, pleasant things to look at.

Just proximity is not enough. If you live across the street from a WalMart, which supplies many daily needs, that street is probably 6 to 10 lanes wide, with dangerous, alienating, high-speed traffic, no sidewalks, and a large, boring, parking lot with no protection from the elements. And it's all butt-ugly, so that you don't want to walk to begin with.

Neighborhoods can be hamlets or villages in the countryside, or part of a collection of neighborhoods in larger towns and cities.

Want neighborhood? Click here, and here.


BTW, for those few who don't know, Whit has made three of the best urban movies: Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco. The Barcelona DVD has film commentary by Stillman, Chris Eigeman and Taylor Nichols ("Fred" and "Ted"). Commentaries for Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco are rumored to be in the works.

June 21, 2004 in Film, New Urbanism, Urbanism | Permalink


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