The American Dream boasts white picket fences, acres of private land, front yards and back yards, and a big house with a long beautiful driveway all tucked away in suburbia with neighbors far enough away (or with fences high enough) that you don’t feel obligated to know them all that well. Every family has at least 2 cars, 2.5 kids, a dog, a cat and a fish or two. You make your 20+ minute commute to work in the city or to the office park, and head back home at the end of the day, usually stuck in traffic for most (if not all) of the journey. The days of the paper boy, mail man, and milk man seem far in our past, because let’s face it - there’s at least 3 grocery stores within a 5 mile radius from anywhere you could possibly need to be throughout the day with shelves of milk in plastic jugs waiting to be bought. The mail man now has a car and delivers all over town, most often lacking the familiarity he once did with the people he delivers to. And the “paper” is now something you read online. So, is this truly a dream… or is it an inefficient nightmare?
Environmental awareness and “thinking green” is a hot topic these days, but how does this thinking extend itself into the built environment or to real estate, and is this something we all need? Thinking green often causes people to see red, and though there is much debate, all would agree that being less wasteful is a positive ideal.
-“But at what cost? What changes would we actually have to make, and how would those changes negatively affect our daily lives?”-
This is the mindset of most people today, but often times these changes are positive and actually enhance our quality of life. So what’s an example of a positive change you ask? New Urbanism.
The American Dream encouraged sprawl, the idea was to move away from the hustle and bustle of the loud city to a nice quiet house in the suburbs. However, this instance of sprawl had quite a few unintended negative consequences. We became more dependent on automobiles, on fuel and on infrastructure to service amenities outside of the city center. We are now starting to see that the most sustainable way of living requires density, and fulfills that we live, work and play all within walking distances. Today we’re seeing more and more examples of a happy medium or compromise between city and urban life. “New Urbanism involves fixing and infilling cities, as well as the creation of compact new towns and villages” (newurbanism.org).
There are instances of New Urbanism popping up around the world, and in the US. There’s even foreshadowing of examples right here in Gainesville. Though the Town of Tioga is not truly a New Urbanism development, it is a giant leap in the right direction and possesses many principles of the New Urbanism developments we should focus on developing further. So what are the principles of New Urbanism? See below for full descriptions and how these principles can benefit residents, businesses, developers and municipalities alike (information below adapted and cited from: http://www.newurbanism.org/).
Principles of New Urbanism:
WALKABILITY: Most necessities should be within a 10-minute walking distance of both home and work. Thus the streets should be pedestrian friendly with buildings close to the street, porches to enhance social interaction, tree-lined streets providing shade, on street parking with additional hidden parking lots out of view, garages juxtaposed on the rear of housing to further separate cars from pedestrians, and narrow curving slow speed streets to further enhance pedestrian safety by naturally slowing cars down.
CONNECTIVITY: An interconnected street grid network dispersing traffic while easing walking. There should be a hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards and alleys. High quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable.
MIXED-USE AND DIVERSITY: A mix of shops, offices, apartments and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks and even within buildings exists. Additionally there’s a diversity of people – of ages, income levels, cultures and races.
MIXED HOUSING: There should be a range of residential types, sizes and prices in close proximity to one another.
QUALITY ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN DESIGN: There should be an emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place that embodies local history and culture while leveraging location materials and resources. Special placement of civic uses and sites within the community should be expressed and a sense of human scale architecture with beautiful surroundings and plentiful green-spaces that nourish the human spirit should also exist.
TRADITIONAL NEIGHBORHOOD STRUCTURE: There should be a discernible center and edge with a public green space at the center. There should be a focus on quality public networks, public open spaces and a range of uses and densities within a 10-minute walk. Transect planning is often seen, expressing high densities at the town center, progressively less dense areas towards the edge with mutually reinforcing elements creating a series of specific natural habitats and/or urban lifestyle settings. The professional boundary between the natural and man-made disappears, which enables the environmentalists to assess the design of the human habitat while the urbanists support the viability of nature. This urban-to-rural transect hierarchy has appropriate building and street types for each areal along the continuum.
INCREASED DENSITY: More buildings, residences, shops and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources and to create a more convenient and enjoyable place to live. New Urbanism design principles can be applied at the full range of densities from small towns to larger cities.
SMART TRANSPORTATION: Depending on scale, a network of high-quality trains or buses connecting cities, towns and neighborhoods together should exist. Additionally pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, roller-blades, scooters and walking as daily transportation should exists. For rarer long-distance individual trips, a shared car system should be an option as well.
SUSTAINABILITY: The site should have minimal environmental impact throughout development and operations. Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and a value of natural systems should be apparent. All structures and modes of transportation should be energy efficient, and less dependent on finite fuels. The site should encourage more local production and there should be more walking and less driving behaviors from residents.
QUALITY OF LIVE: All incorporated into one development, New Urbanism enhances the quality of life and enriches the human spirit, connecting us back to nature while still developing and growing as a community.
Increasingly, regional planning techniques are being used to control and shape growth into compact, high-density, mixed-use neighborhoods, villages, towns, and cities. Planning new train systems (instead of more roads) delivers the best results when designed in harmony with regional land planning - known as Transit Oriented Development (TOD). At the same time, the revitalization of urban areas directs and encourages infill development back into city centers.
Planning for compact growth, rather than letting it sprawl out, has the potential to greatly increase the quality of the environment. It also prevents congestion problems and the environmental degradation normally associated with growth. New Urbanism boasts benefits to residents, businesses and developers alike;
Residents benefit from:
- A better quality of live, connecting people with other people. This ideal of neighborliness also protects the children in these communities, for the better the residents recognize and know one another, the more perceptive they’ll be to suspicious activity and danger.
- Close proximity to a range of mixed use businesses and services also allows opportunity for the poor to acquire jobs, recreation and services without depending on a car.
- A healthier lifestyle exists naturally when dependence on vehicles is less and being active through walking or bike riding becomes the norm.
- Financial benefits occur naturally from this way of living as well; schools spend less on transportation, diversity of smaller shops exist allowing local owners to be directly involved within their community, less money spent on cars, payments, insurance and fuel, and more efficient use of tax dollars with less money spent on spread-out utilities and roads.
Benefits to businesses:
- Seeing more foot traffic and thus more business, while people have more money to spend on retail due to spending less on transportation.
- Less money spent by businesses on advertising and large signage.
- Ease in livability with residential options above retail businesses which saves business owners both stress and commuting costs and time.
- Additionally, an economy of scale in marketing due to close proximity and cooperation with other local businesses develops.
- Smaller spaces also promote small local business incubators, lower rents and smaller parking lots.
Benefits to developers:
- More income potential from higher density mixed-use projects due to more leasable square footage, more sales per square foot, and higher property values and selling prices.
- Faster approvals in communities that have adopted smart growth principles resulting in cost / time savings.
- Cost savings in parking facilities in mixed-use properties due to sharing of spaces throughout the day and night, resulting in less duplication in providing parking. Less need for parking facilities due to mix of residences and commercial uses within walking distance of each other.
- Less impact on roads / traffic, which can result in lower impact fees.
- Lower cost of utilities due to compact nature of New Urbanist design.
- Greater acceptance by the public and less resistance from NIMBYS.
- Faster sell out due to greater acceptance by consumers from a wider product range resulting in wider market share.
Benefits to municipalities:
- Stable, appreciating tax base.
- Less spent per capita on infrastructure and utilities than typical suburban development due to compact, high-density nature of projects.
- Increased tax base due to more buildings packed into a tighter area.
- Less traffic congestion due to walkability of design.
- Less crime and less spent on policing due to the presence of more people day and night.
- Less resistance from community.
- Better overall community image and sense of place.
- Less incentive to sprawl when urban core area is desirable.
- Easy to install transit where it's not, and improve it where it is.
- Greater civic involvement of population leads to better governance.
For more information visit: www.newurbanism.org