Why is it called New Urbanism? Well, quite simply because it is not Urbanism. Urbanism was a movement in the 1960s that sought to solve the problem of population growth through efficiently organized cities designed on modernist themes, valuing logic and reason and science and efficiency. The best example I can think of are the “Arcologies” from Simcity2000
Very cool looking to the 12-year-old version of me. But even back then I remember thinking sadly of the boy who has to ride his bike or swim in the lake and look up at the sun through glass. Like a pet. And those two were the best ones. Nevermind the all black ones: they were so gruesome and foreboding I could never bring myself to build them in the game.
I wasn’t the only one to find these type of “hyperstructures” as gruesome. They were in fact seen as sources of torment in another childhood remembrance of mine: the tripods sci-fi young adult fiction.
These hyperstructures were not the invention of sci-fi writers. They were designed by real architects. Le Corbusier’s famous Radiant City:
The towers serve as residential, retail, commercial, travel, and industrial centers. Each with their own specialization. You never have to go outside!
If you are an LA native you may be thinking that is similar to those horrible apartment complexes located in mid-city between 6th and 3rd and Fairfax and La Brea.
And if you thought that, then you are a very astute architectural observer because the Park La Brea apartments are in fact built in homage to Le Corbusier’s Radiant City. (Although they look more like soviet block depression era mental facilities)
Why radiant city? Because it was Corbusier’s redesign of… Paris, city of lights. That’s right, Le Corbusier wanted to redesign Paris.
Clearly Corbusier with his higher level of thought won the day. How many Parisians come to LA to stare in wonder at the great inspiring efficient architecture of the Park La Brea apartments.
Urbanism addresses problems. Ecology, the environment, travel, population management. But it does not elevate the human spirit. It does not create spaces worth caring about.
New Urbanism is a reaction to Urbanism. New Urbanism addresses similar problems with the message to live simpler, smaller, compact, walkable, create spaces worth caring about. Yes, dense, compact, mixed use, are characteristics shared by both. But one feels better. It’s built for humans. To human scale, dignifying individuals, and extolling cultural values. New Urbanism is a new kind of urbanism.
For a palette cleanser, here are some pics of new urbanism in action: