Technical, in-depth, and how-to reports

The retrofit of suburbia: The shopping mall

New Urban News Technical Page by Andres Duany, Michael Morrissey, and Patrick Pinnell
Real estate development’s most tediously repeated truism is that the three most important factors in property value are location, location, and location. That observation has now been stretched into a self-fulfilling prophecy. American retailing, in particular, has been subject to the mindless protocol of “locations” made by the intersection of traffic counts, producing at those points the massively repetitious shopping centers and malls of American suburbia.

Urban growth boundary did not make Portland unaffordable

New Urban News Article, 3/1/2005
New figures undercut claims that the Oregon region’s housing costs have gone out of sight.

For the past several years, opponents of “smart growth” policies have insisted that Portland, Oregon’s urban growth boundary has made the region a much less affordable place to buy a house. But it now appears that the critics’ arguments relied to a large degree on figures that were wrong.


Chapter 14 of the New Urbanism Best Practices Guide

Finance is a challenge for New Urbanism, in part because a mix of uses and a variety of housing types generate more variables — which are often equated with higher risk. Complexity also means diversity, however, and diversity is a proven way to manage risk. This chapter examines finance and investment in new urban communities from varying perspectives — those of developers, investors, governments, and individuals.

Urban retail

Chapter 5 of the New Urbanism Best Practices Guide
How to create walkable, mixed-use retail at a time when national retail chains often have unyielding formats geared toward the automobile? This chapter explores the challenges of big-box and several other forms of retail. Consultant Robert Gibbs examines corner stores, convenience stores, neighborhood centers, community centers, and regional centers. Goody Clancy Associates lays out steps for matching the volume of retail to the number of households and their spending power. Urban retail expert Richard Heapes distinguishes between lifestyle centers and New Urbanism. Stephen Mouzon explains how to place large stores in urban blocks in various Transect zones.

Building community

Chapter 20 of the New Urbanism Best Practices Guide

Author Douglas E. Morris has argued that loneliness, depression, violence, and other individual or societal troubles can be traced at least partly to the physical breakdown of community. This chapter argues that physical structure does not determine how we live, but it does influence behavior and affect people’s well-being. Evidence is presented from Harbor Town in Memphis, Celebration in Florida, Orenco Station in Oregon, Kentlands in Maryland, and elsewhere.

A more sustainable resort model for the Bahamas

New Urban News Article with images, 7/1/2009
A new resort community may seem an extravagance during the worst housing crunch in more than a half-century, but developer Orjan Lindroth says his project, Schooner Bay, is a model of environmental and fiscal sustainability.

Virginia town center opens in tough economy

New Urban News Article with images and sidebar, 6/1/2009
Along Interstate 64 in southeastern Virginia, a $276 million mixed-use town center is opening at a tough time. Three- and four-story buildings with first-floor retail are rising near seas of parking and suburban arterial roads in Hampton, a city of 145,000 containing little or no existing urbanism — in a metro area of 1.8 million people.

A ‘boomburb’ adopts New Urbanism

New Urban News Article with images, 1/1/2009
A suburban Texas municipality approves one of the largest applications of the SmartCode and is work-ing on a city-wide form-based code.

“Boomburbs,” as described by author Robert Lang, are suburban municipalities topping 100,000 people that have seen double-digit growth for at least three decades in a row. Most boomburbs were rural outposts in 1950, and although you may have not heard of many of them, they have accommodated a disproportionate share of the nation’s growth in the last half-century.


Chapter 25 of the New Urbanism Best Practices Guide

Abstract: From the moment private automobiles first appeared on city streets, parking has posed a major design problem for the public realm. In this chapter, Brian O’Looney, Neal Payton, and Patrick Siegman offer an in-depth examination of parking solutions — for settings ranging from natural areas to neighborhoods of single-family detached houses, to moderate-density areas, to city centers and urban cores.

Affordable housing looms as a critical urban challenge

New Urban News Article with images, 10/1/2009
As the recession bottoms out, planners are looking how to leave room for moderate-income residents in walkable neighborhoods.

Once the nation’s shaken economy recovers, real estate analysts expect a growing number of urban neighborhoods to become so expensive that people of modest income will be priced out of them. This would undermine socioeconomic diversity, which has long been a new urbanist ideal.

The human-scale workplace

Chapter 6 of the New Urbanism Best Practices Guide

Many workers like having their job in a downtown, town center, or other setting where they can walk out the door and find restaurants, cafes, stores, and other amenities. New Jersey’s State Plan calls for workplace buildings “in close proximity to a critical mass of housing, supported by institutional, civic, recreational and other such uses.” This fine-grained pattern is more enjoyable and in some ways convenient than conventional office parks.

Retail seen as ‘the Achilles’ heel’ of some TODs

New Urban News Article with images, 12/1/2006
Transit-oriented development project in Oakland highlights questions of how much retail to build and how to handle parking.

Fruitvale Village in Oakland, California, has become a reluctant symbol of the difficulties that transit-oriented development (TOD) can encounter.

Alley and garage variations

New Urban News Technical Page by Andres Duany, Michael Morrissey, and Patrick Pinnell

Every component of urbanism possesses both technical and social dimensions. While there are always good reasons for a traditional component or relationship of components to assume a standard form, there are also times when some widespread alteration of social circumstance licenses, indeed demands, technical reinvention.

Sustainability and environment

Chapter 21 of the New Urbanism Best Practices Guide

Urbanism can greatly benefit the environment — by concentrating development in compact patterns that use natural resources more efficiently. These patterns make it possible to preserve more land as natural, agricultural, or open space and to reduce auto emissions, energy use, and stormwater runoff. This chapter looks at New Urbanism’s rapidly advancing practices in sustainability and the environment.

New Urbanism moves toward ‘low-impact’ infrastructure

New Urban News Article with images, 12/1/2006
Natural drainage systems and other ecologically advanced technologies are coming to walkable communities.

A new urbanist-led charrette in November recommended that New Orleans be redeveloped with “natural drainage systems” — techniques allowing stormwater to soak into the ground rather than be piped, sometimes full of pollutants, to bodies of water like Lake Pontchartrain.

Research: trees make streets safer, not deadlier

New Urban News Article with images, table, sidebar, 9/1/2006
Proposals for planting rows of trees along the roads — a traditional technique for shaping pleasing public spaces — are often opposed by transportation engineers, who contend that a wide travel corridor, free of obstacles, is needed to protect the lives of errant motorists.

Increasingly, however, the engineers’ beliefs about safety are being subjected to empirical study and are being found incorrect. Eric Dumbaugh, an assistant professor of transportation at Texas A&M, threw down the gauntlet with a long, carefully argued article, ”Safe Streets, Livable Streets,” in the Summer 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association. A follow-up article by Dumbaugh, in the 2006 edition of Transportation Research Record, will present further evidence that safe urban roadsides are not what the traffic-engineering establishment thinks they are.

Shaping the region

Chapter 2 of the New Urbanism Best Practices Guide

Regional or large-scale plans incorporating New Urbanism’s principles have been written to guide development in many places across the US. Examples in this chapter include the Chicago Regional Plan, Envision Utah, Portland 2040 (in Oregon), and the Community Character Plan of Collier County, Florida. Such plans generally uphold the idea that the modern metropolis has multiple centers, should contain identifiable cities, towns, and villages, and should make the neighborhood its basic unit of growth.

Old-style ballparks, fronting on urban streets, spur in-city living

New Urban News Article with images and sidebar, 9/1/2003
“Context-based” baseball stadiums generate vibrant mixed-use districts despite critics’ questions about “retro” style.

A July 27 New York Times article has stimulated debate about whether the trend toward “retro” sports stadiums has begun to wane and, if so, whether this will be good or bad for cities.

Legal planning

Chapter 11 of the New Urbanism Best Practices Guide
Legal planning for new urban communities begins with examining the master plan and envisioning the community that will be built from it. The community’s design — its size, mix of housing types, type and volume of retail, street design, placement common areas, and even physical barriers — directly influences the legal structure of the community and any property owners’ associations. The legal structure is also influenced by financial objectives (such as whether the developer intends to maintain a long-term interest in the commercial center), state and federal law, whether the local government will take the streets and parks for dedication, and the developer’s personal preferences.

Codes make a difference in California, Virginia

New Urban News Article with images, 7/1/2004
Adoption of form-based codes in Petaluma, California, and Arlington County, Virginia, is quickly paying off with new buildings that line the sidewalks and streets. In Petaluma, which enacted a version of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company’s SmartCode in July 2003, a retail and housing development called Basin Street Landing is nearing completion. It occupies former parking lots in part of the 400-acre area regulated by the new code (see July-August 2003 New Urban News). Laura Hall of Fisher & Hall Urban Design, which tailored the SmartCode to the 56,000-population community, says over $100 million in development has been approved since the code’s adoption, including Basin Street Landing, which contains 20,000 square feet of office and restaurant space on the ground floor and 43 apartments above.

Non-rail public transit: primer on concepts

New Urban News Technical Page by Andres Duany, Michael Morrissey, and Patrick Pinnell

The higher the initial cost of a given public transit technology, the less likely a system using it will be built. From the outset, this tough reality must be recognized. The last Technical Page considered the higher levels of technology and infrastructure investment: in descending order heavy rail, light rail, streetcars, and trolleys. All require fixed rail, a layer of supporting infrastructure, and, in most cases, dedicated rights of way. Consequently many communities will be either unable or unwilling to build them.

Making town centers work for businesses and people

New Urban News Article with images, 9/1/2008
Some new urbanists are embracing the techniques of a people-oriented firm called Live Work Learn Play.

Why do some new urban town centers fail to thrive?

Freeway removal revives sections of San Francisco

New Urban News Article with images, 9/1/2005
San Francisco’s newest multiway boulevard will be completed by mid-September, further aiding the revival of what had been a bedraggled portion of the Hayes Valley neighborhood southwest of downtown. The four-block thoroughfare, known as Octavia Boulevard, replaces a part of the Central Freeway that was damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Allan B. Jacobs and Elizabeth Macdonald, two of the co-authors of The Boulevard Book (see Sept. 2002 New Urban News), designed the new roadway with the staff of the city’s Public Works Department.

Taking the ‘sub’ out of suburb

New Urban News Article with images, 1/1/09
A new book finds the pace of suburban retrofits accelerating, leading to polycentric metro areas.

The time for taking modest steps to alter little pieces of the suburbs is over, say Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson. The rate of redevelopment has sped up in the past several years, but if the promise of suburban transformation is to be realized, we’re going to need larger-scale projects — preferably increments of 40 acres or more, according to Dunham-Jones, of Georgia Tech’s architecture program, and Williamson, an architect and urban designer who teaches at City College of New York.

Streets and Blocks: The rural laneway

New Urban News Technical Page by Andres Duany, Michael Morrissey, and Patrick Pinnell

The laneway is found towards the other end of the Transect from its city cousin, the urban alley. Historically, it comes about as an isolated rural dwelling is joined by others, progressively closer. Its appearance as common ground signals a crucial moment: the inauguration of a village.