New Urbanism / New Ruralism
New Urbanism is an urban design movement which promotes walkable neighborhoods containing a range of housing and job types. Wikipedia
New Ruralism is a framework for creating a bridge between Sustainable Agriculture and New Urbanism. A Call for New Ruralism
When I first met Susan her Mom was living in Florida, and, for the next ten years our life contained lots of trips to Florida to visit Mom, culminating with two winters where we lived in Florida for four months. She lived in the city of Apopka, north-west of Orlando, in a very pleasant “sub-division” called Errol Hills Estate. Mom’s main living room had a huge picture window that looked out over a golf course and the country club. It is very pleasant … there is nothing there (apart from the golf and country club) but houses.
Wide streets, tree-lined for shade, and houses.
If you want to go just about anywhere, you need a car. There is one supermarket that you can get to by hiking, if you are into hiking in 90-degree heat, but apart from that a car is vital.
Downtown Apopka is very different. Very few people live there, and if they do they are pretty poor. It is just shops and malls, and once you are east of there it is an 8-lane divided highway that is just “downtown USA everywhere”. Even if all you want to do is cross the road to a shop on the other side, you need a car. Only someone with a death-wish would try to cross an eight-lane divided highway on foot!
This is not unusual: all over America you will find towns like Apopka; they sprung up in the 60s and 70s and the town planning was very much “car-centric”. Latterly this has been happening in a lot of UK town centres: people are shoved aside in favour of cars.
But there are some towns in our area of Florida that are very different: Winter Park and Winter Gardens are two in particular. They were designed much more on a human scale. You can walk from one side to the other without the need for hiking boots or taking your life in your hands. Buildings are mostly human-scale, and there are cafés and restaurants with tables on the side-walk, and bands playing in the bandstand on a Friday evening. The buildings have interesting and attractive architecture, and just being in those towns was an altogether more pleasing experience.
We didn’t know it then, because we had never given town planning a thought—it was a subject just not on our radar—but these “pleasant towns” had been designed according to the ideas of “New Urbanism”, a design and planning movement born of a rejection of “car-centric” planning and embracing human-scale towns.
Personally, I hated the term “New Urbanism” when I first encountered it. Susan and I aren’t “town people”, and we’d always seen Foldehampton as quintessentially rural. But Foldehampton isn’t just trees and fields and cows and sheep: it is also people and houses and shops and businesses. And the art and science of designing how all these things are placed in the landscape is called “town planning”, however small the town or village might be. Of all the schools of town planning we have come across, New Urbanism seemed to us the most likely to produce a pleasant environment that people would want to live in.
Yesterday Susan and I spent some time driving through village after village in the Oxfordshire countryside: they are chocolate-box lovely, with interesting and beautiful architecture, and stunning views. But, almost as bad as on an Apopka eight-lane highway, you’d take your life in your hands walking the streets of most of these little villages. They were built in the days when the biggest and fastest vehicle was a horse and cart or a horse and carriage, and not that many of them.
Nowadays there are cars and vans and milk tankers and giant tractors with hay wagons big enough to hold an entire cottage. So the architectural vernacular of middle England might be pretty when photographed with no vehicles around, with the picture being used for an Oxford Villages website, but it probably isn’t what we would try and reproduce if we were re-thinking the Village of the Future.
Principles of New Urbanism
These principles are taken from www.newurbanism.org. They all seem relevant to what we’re aiming to achieve at Foldehampton.
- Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work
- Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows & doors; tree-lined streets; on street parking; hidden parking lots; garages in rear lane; narrow, slow speed streets)
- Pedestrian streets free of cars in special cases
- Interconnected street grid network disperses traffic & eases walking
- A hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards, and alleys
- High-quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable
Mixed-Use & Diversity
- A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighbourhoods, within blocks, and within buildings
- Diversity of people – of ages, income levels, cultures, and races
- A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity
Quality Architecture & Urban Design
- Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place;
- Special placement of civic uses and sites within community.
- Human scale architecture & beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit
Discernible centre and edge
- Public space at centre
- Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art
- Contains a range of uses and densities within 10-minute walk
- Transect planning: Highest densities at town center; progressively less dense towards the edge
More buildings, residences, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.
New Urbanism design principles are applied at the full range of densities from small towns (and villages!), to large cities
- A network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighbourhoods together
- Pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation
- Minimal environmental impact of development and its operations
- Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and value of natural systems
- Energy efficiency
- Less use of finite fuels
- More local production
- More walking, less driving
Quality of Life
Taken together these add up to a high quality of life well worth living, and create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit.
Southlands, in British Columbia, Canada, is a remarkable vision of integrating new residential development with an existing town, and with agriculture. They coined the term Agricultural Urbanism:
Agricultural Urbanism (AU) is an approach to integrating growth and development with preserving agricultural resources and enhancing elements of the food system. The cornerstone of AU is creating an urban environment that activates and sustains urban agriculture with important elements such as educational programs, small-scale processing opportunities and a farmers’ market or other local sales conduits. AU offers an alternative to the practice of separating places where people live and where agricultural activities occur. Central to the concept of AU is the idea of integration not separation, transitions not buffers. Southlands: A Vision for Agricultural Urbanism
I think that gets as close to what we are aiming to achieve at Foldehampton as anything I have yet encountered!
New Urbanism in the UK
I find that if I am talking to planners and architects, I need to be careful if I mention Prince Charles. His views on town planning and architecture stir up strong responses! And mentioning Poundbury seems to have a similar effect.
Personally, I applaud what he’s trying to do, even if there’s a part of me that is somewhat disappointed with the results. Whenever I have driven through Poundbury (note that I drove: I wasn’t tempted to get out and walk), the streets seemed deserted (other than by cars). I have heard tell that the people of Dorchester (of which Poundbury is a bit of a lump stuck on the side) don’t feel that Poundbury is a part of their community. I kind of like it … but may be it does look a bit like a model village. Or is it a town? I’m not sure.
Of course, you’re not going to get the pavement culture that Floridian New Urbanism towns have: we don’t have the weather for it. I have sat outside a Winter Garden café at 11pm of a February evening eating ice cream, without a jacket. You probably wouldn’t do that in June in England, unless it were a particularly hot summer!
There are other examples in the UK, beside Poundbury:
… but none of them are really doing what we’re aiming for at Foldehampton. We need to find our own definition of a peculiarly English New Ruralism that embodies all these ideas and principles, but that works for England, and for us.
Watch this space!