News Brief

The New Urbanism: Toward Architecture of Community

Creating Communities That Work

by Peter Katz. McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York, 1994. Hardcover, 288 pages, $49.95.

The New Urbanism is one of the most important books to have appeared on what is emerging as a new paradigm in land-use planning and community design. Sometimes referred to as “neotraditional town planning,” this school of thought looks at what’s wrong with our current patterns of development and tries to right those wrongs through strategies that create or strengthen community coherence and a focus on people, not cars.

This photo from the Calthorpe-designed Laguna West community illustrates a key principle for single-family dwellings: locate the garage away from the street.

The proponents of this New Urbanism, including Peter Calthorpe, Andres Duany, and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, have examined the most successful towns and cities in America—places that are comfortable, foster community well-being, and have a good feel to them—and tried to understand what makes them work.

As defined in an essay by Todd Bressi, these are places like Boston’s Back Bay, downtown Charleston, Seattle’s Capitol Hill, and Philadelphia’s Germantown. Through this examination, New Urbanists have developed design parameters and prescriptive guidelines for creating new or infill towns and neighborhoods that engender a sense of community.

Included among the principles or elements of New Urbanism, as outlined in The New Urbanism, are the following:

•A public space that defines the center of each neighborhood;

•Neighborhoods that accommodate a range of housing types and building uses, including retail and commercial space;

•A focus on pedestrians rather than cars;

•Architectural styles that relate to surrounding architecture and local traditions.

A primary focus of some new urbanist projects, especially those of Calthorpe, is “transit-oriented development” (TOD), in which community centers are designed with high enough density to support light commuter rail and are compact enough that people can reach the community center and rail connection on foot.

Another key focus, espoused by the planning team of Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, is that of the neighborhood entity, which operates on a smaller scale than Calthorpe’s TOD template. Their “traditional neighborhood development” (TND) approach creates communities with a public center, such as a park or square, and a size that permits access by pedestrians (radius no greater than one-quarter mile). A development project may include several neighborhoods.

While The New Urbanism introduces the basic design parameters of new urbanist thinking, it is not a really a how-to manual (The Next American Metropolis by Peter Calthorpe serves that role better—see EBN Vol. 2, No. 5 for review). After introducing the concepts of New Urbanism in several very clear and eloquent essays, most of this book provides a tour of 24 communities, existing or planned, which illustrate the principles of New Urbanism. Among the projects shown are some of the best-known examples of this movement—Seaside, Laguna West, and Kentlands, for example—as well as some that are much newer and less publicized.

Built projects are featured with both attractive color schematics and hundreds of top-quality photographs; projects not yet built are illustrated by renderings as well as some new computer-altered photographs, which demonstrate how new technology is helping designers see—and clearly present—these planning concepts.

The New Urbanism is the best introduction we have seen to the new patterns of development that can, perhaps, right some of the wrongs that have occurred in development since World War II. The examples presented here show how land-use planning can again be focused on people rather than automobiles.



Published January 1, 1995

(1995, January 1). The New Urbanism: Toward Architecture of Community. Retrieved from

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