Neotraditional design or new urbanism is a relatively new approach to designing cities, towns and neighborhoods. Neotraditionalism promotes walk-able neighborhoods with a variety of building types on smaller lot sizes. This planning design was created around the 1980s in order to solve some of the issues found in modern day towns and cities.
Since the automobile became readily available and affordable to the American public, there has been an overemphasis of planning for the automobile and a lack of emphasis placed on how pedestrian friendly towns are. In the efforts to create traffic flow and parking availability in American towns, streets have been widened, corners have been rounded and sidewalks have disappeared. These changes have resulted in pedestrian unfriendly neighborhoods, a loss of a sense of “community” in towns, and have created a dependency on automobiles, as they have become the only logical and efficient way to get around. Neotraditionalists try to combat all of these issues through reverting back to traditional cities and towns in which stores, offices, and restaurants are all in walking distance. Since the turn of the 20th century, mixed-use areas such as these have been prohibited through zoning ordinances. It was feared that having factories or butcheries next to houses was dangerous. However, we have made great improvements to industries such as these and have decreased the effects they have on neighboring buildings. As a result, mixed-use neighborhoods can start to be celebrated instead of feared.
Neotraditionalists suggest that having living quarters above stores and restaurants will help combat the shortage of low-income housing. In a Neotraditional community issues of parking will be diminished; although there will still be some parking available along streets and behind buildings. Having parking on the street will aid as a buffer between pedestrians and traffic and therefore increase safety. Buildings will be built on smaller lots and will be pushed closer to the curb in order to provide additional parking behind. Neotraditionalists believe these communities will be successful because people are already willing to pay to live in communities with these characteristics such as Brooklyn Heights, New York or Georgetown, Washington D.C.
As with almost every new idea, neotraditionalism has its critics. Some people believe that neotraditional design is based off of one theory, that people would prefer to walk rather than drive. If this isn’t the case and people do prefer to drive to work and other destinations, then will this new approach to planning fail?
The fact that neotraditional towns have the potential to help increase the availability of low-income housing is a strong benefit to some people. However, low-income housing is in itself a very controversial topic with some strong opposition. People may fear that the value of their property may go down because of the type of buildings neotraditionalism might bring in.
Neotraditionalists are also being criticized for their use of zoning ordinances to create these new communities when one of their initial reasons for neotraditional towns was to combat the issues of zoning. Is it logical to solve zoning issues with more zoning?
Neotraditionalism has only been around for a couple decades now and what may come of it in another couple of decades or so is unknown. One thing is certain and that is this new design has received critique from all over. Typically, ideas that receive attention like that are at the very least interesting to watch unfold. I am excited to see what neotraditionalism will bring us in the future and to see what modifications, if any, will be made.
Levy, John M. Contemporary Urban Planning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2013. Print.
O’Toole, Randal. “A Critique of Neotraditionalism.” Neotraditionalism. The Thoreau Institute, Web. 28 Sept. 2014.