It has been a bad media week for New Urbanism.
“The day that New Urbanism Died?” was the headline of the St. Louis Urban Workshop blog that detailed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of Whittaker Builders, developer of the “New Town at St. Charles,” a premier New Urbanist community located in the St. Louis exurbs (beyond the suburbs).
The author notes that “New Town will not disappear, plenty of people are happy to live there, but its promise is gone. It's become just another suburban enclave and will face the same challenges as other suburban developments; lack of retail, long commutes, etc.” The blog’s headline is a play on a characterization by postmodern architect Charles Jenks, who referred to the demolition of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe public housing project as “The Day Modern Architecture Died.”
The Northwest Indiana Times detailed the failure of a new urbanist community (Coffee Creek) in an October 23 article. The article noted that the planned 2,000 home mixed use development, located in the exurbs 45 miles from Chicago’s Loop had attracted only 12 homes and an apartment building. Much of the empty land has been purchased by another developer, who indicated an affection for the new urbanism concept, noting however that it probably would not work here. The article notes that a more modest New Urbanist development is doing better, in nearby Burns Harbor, with 75 homes occupied out of a planned 300.
Perhaps the unkindest cut of all was a survey, reported by the Oregonian, to the effect that residents of Orenco Station travel by car to work nearly as much as people who live in the unremarkably conventional and sprawling suburbs of Portland.
Despite these unhappy stories, the death of New Urbanism is not imminent. True, to the extent that New Urbanism requires subsidies it is likely to prove unsustainable in the longer term, like its Pruitt-Igoe type predecessors. On the other hand, to the extent that New Urbanism represents a genuine response of architects, builders and developers to actual, rather than imagined demand, New Urbanism could be with us for some time to come.