Tuesday, April 21, 2009


"New Urbanism" and "Smart Growth" Land Development -- In the 1920's, landscape architect John Nolen designed a new suburb on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio. This new suburb was named Mariemont and was meant to be a "National Examplar" of how suburbs should be designed. It was connected to Cincinnati by streetcar and by Route 50 which ran through its center. As such, it was the first transit-oriented suburb. It also was designed with all the schools and town center to be within a five or ten minute walk from all parts of the community. As such, it was designed to be promote walking and bicycling. To make the community even more pedestrian-friendly, numerous small to medium sized parks were scattered evenly throughout the community, park benches were built on street corners, streets were designed to be narrower than the typical modern suburban street to slow traffic, and large shade trees were planted between the sidewalks and streets to provide shade for pedestrians. Also, the garages of homes were set even with or behind the homes acccessed by alleyways. Through his planning of Mariemont and other subsequent communities and cities, John Nolen is credited with being the "father of modern urban planning." Ironically, the demand for housing after World War II caused the nation to abandon the planning model of John Nolen and instead to develop sprawling residential only suburbs in the model of Levittown, New York. These newer suburbs were designed for the automobile as opposed to pedestrians or mass-transit. They also abandoned the concept of integrated mixed-use as John Nolen had designed for his Mariemont community. Today, however, the 1950's style of suburban sprawl after the model of Levittown is understood to be energy efficent, wasteful of land, a contributor to air pollution and global warming, destructive of the natural environment, and destructive of of the sense of community. For this reason, urban planners and designers are increasingly turning back to the model of Mariemont as designed by John Nolen. When employed in for a suburban development, this model is typically referred to as "New Urbanism." When employed in the design of a closer-in and more dense semi-urban development, this model is typically referred to as "Smart Growth." In fact, both emphasis the same principles emphasized by John Nolen -- i.e. pedestrian oriented, transit-based, mixed-use development, with the purpose of both being to make urban and suburban development more sustainable and compatible with both the human and natural environment (as opposed to emphasizing the automobile). These two models for land development and zoning have become the primary methods of urban planners to make urban land use more sustainable. One of the first examples of "New Urbanism" is the community of Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Maryland -- while two of the more recent and best examples are Celebration in Orlando, Florida and the King Farm in Rockville, Maryland (with the latter being initially designed by Richard Hopper, who is referred to above as having initiated the concept of sustainable design in urban planning and development back in the 1970's and who then went on to also become one of the pioneers in promoting recycling and resource recovery). With respect to the concept of Smart Growth, perhaps the best known example of efforts at "Smart Growth" is Montgomery County, Maryland (with the King Farm referred to above being part of Montgomery County, Maryland's efforts to promote "Smart Growth").