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About New Urbanism | New Urbanism's Market Value | Criticism of New Urbanism | Learning New Urbanism | About CNU | Greyfield Malls | Health and the Built Environment | Advanced Questions

About New Urbanism

Q: Is New Urbanism just about greenfield projects like Seaside?

A: New Urbanism guides development at all scale, from the building to the region. It includes infill projects in existing urban areas, redeveloped neighborhoods including public housing developments, and regional guidelines for development. Excellent examples of each of these can be found among the winners of our Charter Awards.

Q: How do I find a New Urbanist project in my area?

A: The two best resources for finding a new urbanist project are the online database provided on this Web site, and the printed list of projects that New Urban News releases annually in September. CNU's site currently includes projects that are still in planning phases, while NUN limits their listings to projects that have already broken ground.

Q: A development in my area is advertised as "new urbanist." How do I know if it's the real thing?

A: Today, there is no official certification to distinguish between the best New Urbanism and projects that adopt only the name. The quickest way to judge a project is to follow the criteria used by New Urban News in compiling its annual list.

  • Rule out any project that is gated, that lacks sidewalks, or that have a tree-like street system, rather than a grid network. The project as a whole should connect well with surrounding neighborhoods, developments, or towns, while also protecting regional open space.
  • Rule out "single-use" projects that are just housing, just retail, or just office. The various types of building should all be seamlessly integrated -- from different types of housing, to workplaces, to stores.
  • The project should have a neighborhood center within that is an easy and safe walk from all dwellings in the neighborhood. Buildings should be designed to make the street feel safe and inviting, by having front doors, porches, and windows facing the street -- rather than having a streetscape of garage doors.
  • The project, and particularly the neighborhood center, should include formal civic spaces and squares.
  • Finally, there is the "popsicle test." An eight-year-old in the neighborhood should be able to bike to a store to buy a popsicle, without having to battle highway-size streets and freeway-speed traffic.

Q: Is CNU in favor of requiring development to be New Urbanist?

A: Today's regulations overwhelmingly stop New Urbanist development from being built. We are in favor of repealing these anti-choice rules. In some locations, codes mandating good urbanism make sense. They make sense in downtown areas, historic cities, and places where the demand for New Urbanism far exceeds the supply. However, we are not interested in coercing people to live in New Urbanism. We believe it will succeed on market demand.

New Urbanism's Market Value

Q: Do developers want to build New Urbanism?

A: Yes. Developers have long made up a large portion of our membership -- maybe 20 percent or more. Urban Land, the monthly magazine of the largest developer trade association, covers almost nothing but New Urbanism. It is a huge growth area.

Q: Do consumers want to buy it?

A: Yes, again. Surveys consistently find at least 15 percent of the home buyers in a region want a walkable, compact neighborhood more than they want a large home on a large lot. Recently, the numbers have been closer to 30 percent. In the wealthiest and most influential demographic - empty nesters and retirees - the survey demand for smaller homes with foot access to shopping is four times higher than the demand among young people. This is discussed further in The Coming Demand.

Q: But the Census says more people are living behind gates. The NAHB says people want golf courses. Consumer surveys say people want single-family homes.

A: Some people want each of those things. But even if New Urbanism is only desired by 30 percent of Americans, that is still a population the size of Germany's. And it's a population that's been incredibly underserved. The best evidence of high consumer demand is in home prices and appreciation. Valuing the New Urbanism found in 1998 that real homebuyers paid up to 25 percent more for a comparable home in a New Urbanist neighborhood. New Urban News has documented disproportionately high appreciation in these neighborhoods. This is clearly an underserved market.

Criticism of New Urbanism

Q: Does New Urbanism gentrify urban neighborhoods?

A: In places that are predominantly low-income, any improvement in the quality of life in a place will attract more wealthy people, causing some gentrification. However, New Urbanism promotes a range of strategies to ensure that neighborhoods maintain a mix of incomes. These methods include:

  • creating a range of housing types, from small apartments to single-family homes
  • "inclusionary housing " ordinances, which require permanently affordable units be built as a part of any development.

Q: What are New Urbanists doing to help low-income communities?

A: CNU supports the development of low-income communities in a wide variety of ways.

New Urbanism promotes the end of segregation between rich and poor. To that end, we support the inclusion of a variety of housing in every development -- allowing apartments to mix with houses, and rentals to mix with owner-occupied housing. We support legalizing granny flats and other "accessory units."

At the same time, we have had considerable influence on the shape of federal policies for low-income housing. The HOPE VI program, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, helps convert distressed housing projects into livable, walkable, mixed-income neighborhoods. The goal of this program is to provide new economic opportunities for people with less money, while providing well located market-rate homes for the better-off.

In September 2000, CNU hosted a forum on mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhoods with the Seaside Institute, Urban Land Institute, and HUD in September, 2000. The resulting publication, "An American Challenge" offered practical advice on designing, financing, and promoting these types of developments.

Q: As a suburbanite, I like my low-density environment. Why should I accept a high-density development?

A: The question is not, "smart growth" vs. "no growth." Rather, it is smart growth vs. sprawl. All cities and towns start out with lower densities, and eventually evolve into denser places. That is how we accommodate our growing population. The only alternative is to grow endlessly outward. That destroys a region's quality of life as it consumes farmland and wilderness, creates very high levels of vehicle use, and moves homes further and further from jobs, schools, and parks.

Q: Doesn't high density development cause traffic congestion?

A: In the very center of a high-density development, there tends to be traffic congestion. After all, it is an important destination, and lots of people want to be there at the same time. However, this is different from the kind of congestion that is consuming entire metropolitan regions due to sprawl. In a dense development, many trips can be taken by foot, and mass transportation is feasible. As a result, the overall vehicle miles driven in the region goes down. For example, a study in the San Francisco Bay Area found that residents of the dense traditional cities on the west side of the Berkeley Hills drove only one quarter as much as residents of the post-1950 suburbs east of the hills -- 8,000 compared to 32,000 miles per year.

Q: Is New Urbanism just a way to "greenwash" the development of farmland?

A: The decision about where to develop is a political one. CNU supports urban growth boundaries, which limit where development may take place. CNU supports the creation of regional parks, agricultural protection areas, and other ways of formally separating one town from the next.

Nevertheless, farmland and wilderness are frequently developed. Once a zoning board, city council, or board of county supervisors votes to make land available for development, the question ceases to be "whether" to develop, and becomes "what" to develop. New Urbanists are faced with a choice. To be purists, they can refuse to design for greenfield sites. However, that dooms the sites to almost inevitably becoming sprawl. Instead, many New Urbanists prefer to engage those sites. They protect as many as possible of the critical habitats, sight-lines, and other irreplacable resources. For the developed area, they produce neighborhoods at 8, 10, even 50 units per acre, rather than the suburban standard of about 3 units per acre. The result is that many more areas are protected, and at the same time, the resulting human habitat is far superior to that provided by sprawl.

Q: Is New Urbanism liberal or conservative?

A: No. New Urbanism is popular among people from a range of political orientations. Many people support expanded choice in housing, reduced subsidies for sprawl, and enhanced community. Support has come from all over the spectrum, from libertarians and socialists, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. Policies supporting choice in transportation mode, mixed-income neighborhoods, and protection of open space are being supported by the Bush Administration, just as they were by the Clinton Administration.

Learning New Urbanism

Q: I want a career in New Urbanism. Where do I go to school?

A: Unfortunately, no school has yet developed a heavily New Urbanist curriculum. The following schools all have faculty members sympathetic to the New Urbanist movement.

  • Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI
  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana and Champaign, IL
  • University of Maryland School of Architecture, College Park, MD
  • University of Miami School of Architecture, Coral Gables, FL
  • University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN

Q: I am a professional in a field related to New Urbanism. How do I develop my understanding of New Urbanist principles?

A: The most comprehensive educational event about New Urbanism is the annual Congress for which CNU is named. The next Congress will be held June 24-27, 2004 at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, IL. In addition, the Seaside Institute is a professional development institute that holds seminars about new urbanism.

CNU has also created a 6-hour course, "New Urbanism 101," which is available on videotape. It received rave reviews at CNU IX in New York, and at Railvolution 2001 in San Francisco. We aim to present this course around North America in concert with other conferences and events. If you are interested in hosting a New Urbanism 101 course, please let us know.

About CNU

Q: Does CNU have local chapters?

A: CNU has started creating regional chapters. These are to be independent organizations that promote New Urbanism within a metropolitan region, a state, or a multi-state area. The first chapter to achieve basic recognition is in Florida. Other chapters will be forming. CNU will hire a Chapter Coordinator to help bring these groups into existence.

Q: Who started CNU, and when?

A: The first Congress, held in 1993, was a meeting of 170 designers organized to compare works-in-progress and exchange ideas about urban and suburban places. Architects Peter Calthorpe, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Moule, Stefanos Polyzoides, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Daniel Solomon, along with organizer Peter Katz, developed the CNU as a non-profit organization to promote and disseminate information about the New Urbanism. The CNU Charter was developed between 1993 and 1996, when it was ratified at the fourth annual Congress in Charleston, South Carolina.

Q: Where are CNU's members?

A: CNU has members throughout the world. In addition to members in 49 U.S. states, CNU also has members from 20 countries. California, Florida, New York, Colorado, and Texas are the five states with the most members.

            1 - 30 members
            31 - 60 members
            61-90 members
            91-120 members
            121+ members

Q: What kind of people join CNU?

A: CNU was originally founded by architects and planners. However, over time, our membership has diversified. Today, we have members from all parts of the real estate and policy world. Realtors, developers, public officials, citizen activists, researchers, landscape architects, builders, and bankers all find that a CNU membership is an excellent investment.

Q: Do you certify New Urbanists or New Urbanist projects?

A: Many members have expressed interest in certification. CNU is currently in the process of reviewing the pros and cons of establishing an evaluative tool for new urbanist projects and a certification program. Updates will be announced in New Urban News.

Greyfield Malls (Dead Malls)

Q: How many dead malls are there in the United States?

A: CNU commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers to study this in 2000. They found that of the 2,000 regional malls in the country, 11 percent were greyfields and 8 percent were at imminent risk of becoming greyfields. Greyfield status was defined as less than $150/square foot/year in sales � about a third the sales density of a top-performing mall.

Q: Where are they?

A: Greyfields are found in almost every metropolitan area. They tend to be in cities and older suburbs. They are often located on major arterial streets, but without direct freeway access.

Q: How do I know if my local mall would qualify?

A: This can be counterintuitive. A low vacancy rate does not always indicate health. You need to look for vacant anchor stores, anchors that have been converted to office space, flea markets in the parking lot, and perpetually deferred maintenance.

Q: What does CNU want to do with greyfield malls?

A: CNU believes that these superblocks can be reincorporated into the community. The most important action is to build streets through the site to connect with the surrounding streets. New streets partition the site into city blocks that can be developed as a mixture of housing, retail, institutions, and parks.

Q: But don't people like malls?

A: We are not advocating that every mall be torn down. We do believe that buildings and neighborhoods should be built to last. Most malls are built to decline from opening day onward. Those malls that people like should be maintained. We should not be building disposable retail centers. New construction should be built as resilient neighborhoods.

Health and the Built Environment

Q: What's so bad about cars?

A: CNU does not condemn cars. In fact, the Charter of the New Urbanism specifically mentions that there must be space for cars in the modern city. However, we also don;'t design places for the sake of easy car access, free vehicle flow, or easy parking. All of these can be great at times, but our priority is always on walkable, interesting streets.

We believe in choice. People should be able to choose to walk, bike, take transit, use a scooter, ride a motorcycle, or drive a vehicle. Too much urban planning assumes that everyone will drive a car � making life miserable for those who don't.

Q: Does sprawl make you fat? Does New Urbanism make you thin?

A: Things are not so simple. There is a clear correlation between walkable neighborhoods and lower body mass indices. It's not that walkable neighborhoods make you thin, but they provide an environment where everyday activity is facilitated. That means that some people are going to get more exercise than they would otherwise. Those people are likely to end up healthier. Additionally, well-contained cities can give residents access to local produce, as local farms are less likely to be paved over. Well planned neighborhoods give all residents access to a full range of food stores, and this encourages improvement in nutrition. Dr. Richard Jackson of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave a very popular presentation on this topic at CNU XI in Washington, DC.

Advanced Questions

New Urbanist practitioners must routinely answer questions about parking ratios, design details, planning and zoning codes, and other technical implementation issues. Conference papers, tech sheets, and other research reports are available on this site under CNU Reports. Many questions have also been discussed on the Pro-Urb listserv, a discussion board for practicing New Urbanists. A link to the archives of this discussion will be provided here when possible.

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