October 10, 2007 - 09:05 AM
Growing up mostly in suburban New Jersey surrounded by strip malls and gated communities combined with my European background has marked my thoughts on urban planning. Most of what I believe can be found through the Congress for the New Urbanism (www.cnu.org), but I'll sum up my version here:
There is a reason that places like Brooklyn Heights, NY, Georgetown, DC and Princeton, NJ are some of the most expensive to live in an incredibly high demand. They are the types of cities and towns that most people like to live in: Multi-zoned communities with streets, shops, and offices on the ground level with apartments above, brownstones with private backyard spaces, tree-lined streets to help cool things down, walk-able destinations which are better for our bodies and fuel emissions.
Sure there are many who prefer to live in an isolated house surrounded by acres of farmland, or in a homogenous condo, or simply a home with a big yard for barbeques and pick-up football, but most people like to live in what I call the Richard Scarry Model. As a child I loved the worlds that Richard Scarry created in his illustrated books. As I got older I realized it was simply a European Town model. Why is this type of urban/suburban planning so difficult to create in the States? Why does Europe find it so hard to continue its own model as its cities grow into sprawl as well?
I'm convinced that many people live in suburban developments because they don't have the choice to live any other way. So if you are a developer I would urge you consider some of the options you have the demand is there but no supply.
Theories of Spontaneity
In contrast to Suburban Sprawl, The Richard Scarry Model/European Town Model creates more unplanned moments of interaction between neighbors. These spontaneous moments are what help fuel a sense of community and alleviate a feeling of loneliness, one of the principal culprits of depression. Once I've tracked down the psychologists and sociologists who have written about this I'll be sure to include them here.