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Norton Commons architect talks about New Urbanism developments

Sept. 27, 2012

Global warming will be a fait accompli in 30 years, and so these urban Americans will raise their own food, in fields and on rooftops, and build structures to withstand everything from hurricane winds to Formosan termites. They will walk and ride more and drive less. And they will like it.This is the future envisioned by Andres Duany, architect, town planner, teacher and polemicist. And the future, he will tell you, is his business, according to The Courier-Journal.

"It's my job to think ahead," he says. "People say you can't predict the future because they're experts in the present, and the present is a distortion field."

In 1997, Duany was the designer behind Norton Commons, a 600-acre, village-like subdivision in Louisville, Ky. He has a track record of prescience. Three decades ago he created the plan for Seaside, a Florida Panhandle beach town that is arguably the most influential settlement since Levittown's opening on Long Island sparked suburbia's sprawl in 1947.

He designed Seaside as a rebuke to Levittown. Duany aimed to revive civic sociability and reduce dependence on cars by mixing homes, offices, stores and play areas in a tight grid of streets, paths and squares. Seaside's old-town look, displayed in the 1998 film The Truman Show, was no accident; front porches and picket fences were required by code, and lawns, artificial siding and attached garages were forbidden.

Duany went on to co-found the planning movement New Urbanism, which advocates communities based on the pedestrian and mass transit instead of the car and highways. Although only a fraction of new construction over the past two decades fit that prescription, New Urbanism had gained momentum when the housing bubble popped.

The bust succeeded in doing what New Urbanism had not: stopping suburban sprawl and drastically reducing the value of much of what had been built on the metropolitan periphery.

When construction picks up, said Robert Lang, who teaches urban affairs at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, New Urbanism will take the lead. In the Washington, D.C., area, partly insulated from the downturn by federal spending, compact settlements near mass-transit stations already are the norm.

Duany and the New Urbanists have their critics. Demographer Joel Kotkin of Southern California’s Chapman University argues that the convenience of the car and the suburb ensures their continued dominance over mass transit and city centers. And British architecture critic Jonathan Glancey has called New Urbanism “holier-than-thou” in its presumption that planners know best.

But no one questions the influence of Duany, whom Lang calls “a guru of the new metropolis.”

Read more about sustainable communities.


Topics: Building Green, Proud Green Home of Louisville, Sustainable Communities


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