Urban communties can be designed in a very large number of ways, some being innovative while others have been in use for centuries.  Recently, neotraditional planners have sought layouts that are pedestrian-friendly and transit-oriented, de-emphasizing the automobile.  I generally agree with such designs, and here is an example of what I feel would fall into this category (somewhat).Downtown Newark


Sorry it’s blurred, but this is downtown Newark, NJ.  While the streets are wide and allow for plenty of cars, pedestrians should not have trouble.  The business district here is centered around Newark Penn Station, the structure located to the far right.  It is a very large hub containing a multitude of transit modes: NJ Transit commuter trains, PATH subway to New York, Newark Light Rail (underground), inter-city Amtrak trains, and plenty of local and regional bus routes.  Many office buildings are within a short walk of the station, improving local business.  Note that Newark has a long history of being an impoverished city, but this commercial district has seemed to be a form of redevelopment.  Most importantly, note the skywalk on the left.  While it is privately owned, anyone may use it which enhances the convenience of the transit center, allowing for easy access to office towers, shops, hotels, and the Prudential Center.  Skywalks and pedestrian tunnels greatly improve the walkability of the city especially in inclement or extreme weather; other cities with such networks include Detroit (near the Renaissance Center), Milwaukee (downtown by the shopping mall), and Montreal (underground, with a vast array of commercial venues, linking to many metro stations).

While proximity to transit is important, the community itself needs certain qualities.  The concept of a “neighborhood” is discussed in Contemporary Urban Planning, and a necessary quality, in addition to common schools and street networks, is the accessibility of public parks and open plazas, such as what is seen here on the Livingston Campus of Rutgers.  There are many apartment building complexes throughout the USA which have common areas, often run by Special Improvement Districts that also own the towers (an example is Battery Park City in New York).  The public spaces add aesthetics, while also allowing activities to take place there, such as exercise programs.




Livi Apartments


On the other hand, notice this setting





This is not conducive to the goals of New Urbanism.  The location is Hamilton, NJ, where there is a train station off to the left which allows for regional travel, but the community itself is very automobile-dependent, although it is not an edge city as there are residences as well.  The station in essence is a park-and-ride, with thousands of stalls fronting the platform area and a massive garage.  It’s a nuisance for people to access on foot even for the houses close by.  Notice how wide the roads are, with such a claustophobic sidewalk.  There are bus lanes at the station, but that does not solve the last-mile problem.  The station was not built until 1999, when a Transit-Oriented Development, much like in Rahway, could have been easily constructed, with some apartment and office buildings where the parking lot is.

While Transit-Oriented Development is a very efficient plan, as it contributes to reduction in fossil fuel usage and pollution, might not always end up the way it should be.  Here you see downtown New Brunswick, which certainly has seen new residential and commercial buildings centered around the train station, but pedestrian access has only been somewhat improved.  The train tracks seem to isolate the university campus from the downtown business district, and there are few places for people to cross in between.  The area has many cul-de-sacs as well, and complicated pedestrian crossings such as the intersection of Somerset and Albany.