In Search of Community: A Fortnight’s Journey into the New Urbanism

This series of essays explores the design and planning of American communities through the lens of the New Urbanism, a planning methodology developed in the late 1980s and formally proposed in 1993 with the founding of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and the adoption of its Charter.  Presented as a planning solution for the sprawling social, economic, and ecological failures of the Euclidian zoning of American suburbs, the New Urbanism reintroduces the tenets of traditional city planning such as diversity of uses, public space, and walkability while addressing modern-day realities such as the automobile and “big box” retailers.

EDIT (07/13/15):  Apologies, but I’ve put this series on hold for a couple more months.  Just moved to New York City a few months back and still am unpacking!


I would like to acknowledge the great minds and kind people who offered me insight, guidance, and hospitality in my search for answers.  In Playa Vista: Vinayak Bharne, Michael Bohn, and Ed Varela. In Kentlands: Mike Watkins and his team; Marina Khoury; Caroline Heggen; Maria Gonzalez-Peterson and Donald Peterson; and Kate and Matt Hurson.  In Seaside: Robert, Daryl, and Micah Davis; Diane Dorney and the Seaside Institute; Michael Lykoudis; and Sadie Davis.  In general: City Fabrick, for the luxury of time; and Joseph Peterson, for the freedom to learn and fly.  Thank you all.

I am fascinated with the city as an organism–the symbol of human civilization and the synthesis of an infinite number of minds.  What I love most of all is the connection to other human beings that a healthy, functioning city provides.  This connectivity, this community, exists neither by wishful thinking nor by accident, but rather, by design.

I am fortunate that City Fabrick offers a two-week sabbatical period for its employees to study and reflect upon an urban topic that intrigues them.  For me, that topic has perpetually been Community.  As designers of the built environment, how do we build the sense of community?  How do we foster this casual trust between neighbors?  How do we create common goals and interests among an ever increasingly diverse demographic of strangers?

By design.  By carefully and thoughtfully planning for community, we can remedy the last half-century’s obliteration of our pride of place (literally speaking) and of our connection to one another.  Presently, the New Urbanism–including its subsets of Smart Growth, TND, and TOD–is the most comprehensive and relevant planning model for city planning.  But does the application of the New Urbanism, in fact, create Community?

To fully experience the sense of community so often associated with New Urbanist folklore, over the course of two weeks this past January, I traveled to and examined three of its poster children communities: Playa Vista, Kentlands, and Seaside.  These three communities stand out because their initial designs actually predate the New Urbanist movement, thus heralding and influencing its founding.  Each week, I’ll bring you a new chapter in my travels below.*


THE SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND ECOLOGICAL BALANCE OF COMMUNITY

What are the tenets of the New Urbanism, and how does it propose to usher in an architecture of community?

Playa Vista: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

A planned New Urbanist community until financial and legal troubles overcame its original development team.  Can its current developers maintain the vision?

Kentlands: GAITHERSBURG, MARYLAND

The first year-round, New Urbanist suburban community.  Can the New Urbanism be successfully applied to suburbs?

Seaside: SANTA ROSA BEACH, FLORIDA

The first full application of the New Urbanism–a vacation town in the ‘Redneck Riviera’.  Truman Show fake or Emerald Coast authentic?

Long Beach: From ‘Iowa by the Sea’ to ‘International City’

Coming full circle, what can the New Urbanism do, if anything, for Long Beach?


*This series does not reflect the views of any of the persons or entities mentioned or acknowledged herein.  It also does not purport to be a New Urbanist source or reference, but a personal study and analysis.  These words are my own reflections and thoughts, as supported by what information I could find and observe.  No one made me or paid me–alas, I’m just a nerd.

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In Search of Community: A Fortnight’s Journey into the New Urbanism

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