Witold Rybczynski, architect and author, delivered a blunt assessment of the New Urbanism last week.
To start with, I don't think the New Urbanism movement needs defending. A major goal of New Urbanism has been the revitalization of cities. Rybczynski offers a long list of ways that cities have succeeded in the last two decades and argues that new urbanists have failed because they can’t take any of the credit. I can live with that kind of failure.
I take issue, however, with a list of important ideas that have affected America’s cities that is focused only on big architectural projects and demographic and social trends. Where, on Rybczynski's list, are streets, and placemaking, place-based development, and the human scale?
Rybczynski is under the impression that New Urbanism is mostly about big projects like Seaside or Kentlands. Instead, this movement set its sights on something bigger than individual projects — bigger even than cities themselves. The goal was and is the reform of the government-sponsored land-use development and planning system — including the streets, the zoning, the way transportation is connected to land use.