(2010-10-04) Lewis Contra New Urbanists

Nathan Lewis slams the New Urbanist-s again.

With all these photos from Old Europe, people sometimes get the impression that what I mean by "TraditionalCity" is old-fashioned. You could imitate Toledo (Spain) exactly and get a splendid result, but you can also have a contemporary version of the Traditional City. For example, these are photos from Seijo, a residental community (ie a "suburb") on the western side of Tokyo (Japan). Many people commute to central Tokyo. These were all farmlands sixty years ago. This is all recent construction, from a green field.

(Looking at a New Urbanist development...) We see a few things here: the houses are basically suburban-syle freestanding "farmhouses," built close together. They are not, for the most part, urban townhouses which are designed to sit side-by-side with no gaps. Of course, they actually are sitting side-by-side, with very small gaps. Don't you think this is a case of using the WRONG DESIGN (suburban farmhouses) when you should be using a TownHouse design?

This roadway is relatively modest, with only two lanes instead of the five lanes common to the 19th century model. However, there is no Parking! If there's no parking, then why have an AutoMobile roadway at all? So we can watch cars pass by without stopping? On either side we have the usual Side Walk-s plus a strip of Green Space. The Green Space provides a buffer between people and shops and the roaring noise of traffic that never stops (and parks). The sensible thing to do would be to make a proper pedestrian environment. You could allow trucks to make deliveries, but for the most part it would be a pedestrian space... The New Urbanist design attempts to segregate automobiles still further by putting them on a separate back alley, where the houses have garages. Now here's the irony of all ironies: that little back alley utility street built exclusively for cars is actually a pretty good Really Narrow Street!

In the New Urbanist design, we have in front of the houses a little bit of useless greenery, plus a white picket fence. Because we are all Tom Sawyer or something like that. This is the worst sort of symbological nonsense. The bit of yard serves as another Green Space buffer from the useless roadway. Better to get rid of the yard, fence, and roadway altogether. The houses still have Front Porch-es, however. New Urbanists are big on front porches. Front porches are nice, but they date from the era before cars. Nobody wants to sit on their porch and watch cars go by. (That's why you need a buffer in the form of a little bit of Green Space and a white picket fence.) Front porches are intended for pedestrian environments. The Traditional City provides many "front-porch-like" elements, primarily balconies, where you can interact with the (pedestrian) street.

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