You can’t read about cities and urban planning for too long before you come across the concept of New Urbanism, which recently held its 13th annual congress in Pasadena, Calif. The movement gained notoriety after The Truman Show was filmed in the New Urbanist town of Seaside, Fla.
If that was all there was to the movement, given the plot to the movie, people might have jumped ship on the idea a long time ago, since from what I remember, the town seemed, well, quite scary. Too planned, and too controlled. You might even say centrally planned.
But the fiction of the movie doesn’t quite match up with the facts and the ideas of New Urbanism. While there may be a whiff of central planning in some of the designs, the concepts of the movement are simply that, concepts. The developers that test out the ideas out are private companies, so if the concepts are poor or infeasible (in other words, if they don’t attract people and clients), they get refined or tossed out, not rammed through to serve some greater purpose.
Speaking of those concepts and ideas, some of them are very attractive, both to me personally and to some of the goals of environmentalism (of all varieties). Walkability is a great example, as is the related idea of transit-oriented development. And, of course, the concept of New Urbanism itself is a reaction to that dreaded sprawl of suburbia.
It’s tough to say exactly where New Urbanism falls on this new sliding scale in my head that has the aesthetic, architectural elements of cities on one end and the practical, logistical elements of cities on the other end. That might be the best feature of the movement, that it manages to gracefully shift between these two extremes and address both of them very well.