In 1961 the late Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities—the classic case of an idea that launched
a movement. Previously, the chief weapons against urban blight were the bulldozer and the housing project. The discussion now turned in a completely different direction: Planners began to think about networks rather than grids; to whisper about pedestrians rather than motorists; to talk openly about urban infill rather than suburban sprawl; to speak out boldly on behalf of mixed-use buildings and diverse, self-governing neigh-borhoods. The concept of a New Urbanism was stirring to life.
In 1993 the chief advocates gathered in Alexandria, Virginia, to launch the Congress for the New Urbanism; the conspiracy had officially become a movement. Coherently planned communities, walkable neighborhoods, and the village green began to blossom across a landscape once abandoned to shopping malls and freeway exits. But movements change and evolve, and this one too is beginning to fray around the edges.
For some, the New Urbanism is a lofty excuse for gentrification; others have linked its communitarian ideal to racism, xenophobia, and an excess of social control. Disney’s hermetic new urban development in Celebration, Florida, is one indication that the movement is being appropriated by corporate interests.
Barry Katz–Dwell's beloved Father Time figure, who price-checked modernist icons in our March 2007 issue–returns with a century long laundry list of sustainability flashpoints. He makes every hour count as a consulting professor at Stanford University, a fellow at Ideo, and a prolific writer and author, most recently of The Tennessee Valley Authority: Design and Persuasion from Princeton Architectural Press.