Understanding how we apply the principles of urbanism in new development
If we are no good at reforming existing urban areas, we are even worse at creating new ones. This is perhaps the most troubling element of the urban agenda because, in creating new places, we have control of all the elements – there is no excuse for getting it wrong even though we often do. Sure, there are developers who are not interested and architects and urban designers who don’t fully understand urbanism. However, even the best developers and designers tend to produce results that fall short of a long-established street, town or neighbourhood.
It is true that like good whisky, urbanism needs time to mature. Freshly minted urban form can be a bit soulless, but come back in 20 years and it will have mellowed and become more diverse. However, there are many new urban areas, whether they be city centre masterplans, new urban neighbourhoods or suburban extensions where no amount of time will make them into the type of place that might win an Academy Award in the future. We are doing something wrong and The Academy of Urbanism should be trying to work out what. Many of the suggested principles emerging from the Congress overlap with those for existing urban areas but they have a particular spin when applied to new places:
Don’t try and second-guess the future.
Any technology we can imagine will be obsolete in the lifetime of the place we are designing
We need to develop places that fit into their context, from their role in the wider urban structure to the grain of the local area
Mix of Uses
New urban places should not be mono-anything. There should always be a mix of uses and housing to foster strong, diverse and resilient communities
Streets and Permeability
The predominant means of structuring new urban areas should be a permeable network of streets
New urban areas should be walkable in terms of the distances to facilities and public transport with quality pedestrian realm
Many plans are undermined because they are developed with buildings that are too large or by too few developers
Flexible and Loose Fit
As we don’t know what the future holds, masterplans and buildings need to be able to flex and evolve to meet changing circumstances