|Three Paradigms: New Urbanism, Everyday Urbanism, Post Urbanism|
New Ubanism, Everyday Urbanism, Post Urbanism
Excerpt from an upcoming new version of the book:
"The Essential Common Place"
To be published by the University of Washington Press
By Doug Kelbaugh
New Urbanism is not the only game in town. Indeed, conventional suburban development envelops the American hinterland at an increasing rate. And New Urbanism enjoys little and often only begrudging respect in academia, especially in schools of architecture where sexier and avant-garde theory dominates pedagogy. In addition to conventional, unselfconscious real estate development at the millennium in America, there are at least three schools of urbanism: New Urbanism, Everyday Urbanism and what I am dubbing as Post Urbanism. They run parallel to contemporary architectural paradigms, although there would be additional paradigms driven and defined by tectonics, symbolism, regionalism, historicism, etc. There are other urbanisms and architectures both fading and emerging, especially outside the USA in developing countries, but these three cover most of the cutting edge theoretical territory and professional activity in the two fields.
A brief synoptic view of the three paradigms follows:
New Urbanism is utopian (or at least reformist), inspirational in style and structuralist in conception. It is utopian because it aspires to a social ethic that builds new or repairs existing communities in ways that equitably mix people of different income, ethnicity, race and age, and to a civic ideal that coherently mixes land of different uses and buildings of different types. It is inspirational because it sponsors public architecture and public space that attempts to make citizens feel they are part, even proud, of a culture that is more significant than their individual, private worlds and an ecology that is vertically and horizontally connected to natural loops, cycles and chains. New Urbanism also eschews the physical fragmentation and the functional compartmentalization of modern life and tries "to make a link between
Everyday Urbanism is nonutopian or atopian, conversational, and nonstructuralist. It is nonutopian because it celebrates and builds on everyday, ordinary life and reality, with little pretense about the possibility of a perfectible, tidy or ideal built environment. Indeed, as John Kaliski and others in Everyday Urbanism point out, the city and its
Post Urbanism, probably better labeled Koolhaas Urbanism among design professionals and academicians, is heterotopian, sensational and post structuralist. Koolhaas' Generic City projects welcome the disconnected hypermodern buildings and shopping mall urbanism. They are also heterotopic because they discount shared values or metanarratives as no longer thought to be possible in a fragmenting world composed of isolated zones of the "other" (e.g. the homeless, gays, communes, militia, prisoners, minorities, etc.) as well as mainstream zones of atomistic consumers, internet surfers, and free-range tourists. Outside the usual ordering systems, these liminal zones of taboo fantasy and commercial zones of unfettered consumption are viewed as liberating because they allow "for new forms of knowledge, new hybrid possibilities, new unpredictable forms of freedom. It is precisely this distrust of 'ordering' that makes the post-structuralists so against conventional architecture and urbanism."3 Traditional communities based on physical place and propinquity are claimed to be stultifying, repressive, and no longer relevant in light of modern technology and telecommunications. Post Urbanism is stylistically sensational because it attempts to wow an increasingly sophisticated consumer of the built environment with ever-wilder and more provocative architecture and urbanism. Like Modernism, its architectural language is usually very abstract with little reference to surrounding physical or historical context. It also continues the modernist project of avant-garde shock tactics, no matter what the building site or program. It is sometimes hard to know if it employs shock for its own sake or whether the principal motive is to inspire genuine belief in the possibility of changing the status quo and resisting controls and limits that are thought to be too predictable and even tyrannical. Koolhaas, Eisenman, Hadid, Libeskind, Tschumi, and Gehry are post-structuralists in the debt of Derrida and other Deconstructionist philosophers. Gehry describes his exuberant insertions into the city as examples of open, democratic urbanism, despite the fact they usually ignore and overpower any local discourse. As stated in Chapter 2, De Con projects are usually self-contained and microcosmic, with little faith in the work of others to complete the urban fabric, even a fragmented one. Post urbanist work embodies and expresses a more dynamic, destabilized and less predictable architecture and urbanism. The personal design portfolio, which is typically more self-referential than contextual, and a sprawling, auto-centric city like Atlanta are held up as a model, although the very idea of a type or model might be rejected outright.
Their Sensibilities, Methodologies and Outcomes
The differences in these three architectures and urbanisms are consistent and deep. The divergence probably starts with the designer's aesthetic sensibilities, which are arguably more basic than design values. Sensibilities often come down to early experiences and memories, such as toilet training and childhood play. They are less conscious and harder to change than cognitive knowledge and learned values. How messy and complex a world a designer can tolerate is harder wiring than how much injustice she can tolerate or how many problems he can justify passing on to the "seventh generation". Where a designer fits on the spectrum of these three paradigms may ultimately have to do with whether in the gut he or she prefers to spend time, for instance, in the grand monuments and boulevards of 19th century Paris or in the medieval streets and buildings of its Marais district or the free-standing high rises of La Defense, its 20th century office complex. Theoretical discourse of course tempers these gut feelings. For instance, the very different political regimes and philosophical systems that gave rise to each of these Parisian urbanisms would no doubt color visceral design sensibilities as well as more cerebral design values.
In addition to varying sensibilities, designers utilize different methodologies. New urbanism is the most precedent-based of the three. It tries to learn and extrapolate from the most enduring architectural types, as well as the best historical examples and traditions as they intersect contemporary environmental, technological, social, economic and cultural practices. It is also the most normative, often adopting prescriptive codes rather than proscriptive zoning. Overall coherence, legibility and human scale are highly valued. New urbanists see themselves as urban design "experts" who lead the public debate and try to shape the dialogue (often through community design charrettes) into holistic design and planning.
Everyday Urbanism is the most populist, with the designer seen as an empirical student of the common and popular as opposed to the idealized or purified. The design professional is more of a co-equal participant who is privileged to enter the public dialogue, which is probably relatively open-ended and democratic. It is less normative and doctrinaire than New Urbanism, because it is more about reassembling and intensifying existing, everyday conditions than overturning them and starting over with a different model. It is also more modest and compassionate than either of the other two paradigms. If the New Urbanist romanticizes a mythic past, the Everyday Urbanist overestimates the mythic aspect of the ordinary and ugly, much as Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown tend to overvalue
Post Urbanism accepts and expresses the techno-flow of a global world, both real and virtual. It is explorative rather than normative and likes to subvert codes and convention. Perhaps Post Urbanists don't tend to engage the public as directly in dialogue because they feel the traditional "polis" is obsolete and its civic institutions too calcified to promote liberating possibilities. They tend rather to operate as "lone
The three paradigms lead to very different physical outcomes. These outcomes vary with whether the client is public or private, but remarkably little. The New Urbanism, with its Latinate clarity and order, achieves the most aesthetic unity and social community, while it mixes different uses at a human scale in familiar architectural types and styles. Its connective grids of pedestrian-friendly streets look better from the ground than the air, from which they can look formulaic and overly symmetrical. Everyday Urbanism, which is the least aesthetically driven, rarely achieves beauty or coherence, day or night, micro or macro, but is egalitarian and lively on the street. Post Urbanist site plans always look the most exciting, with their laser-like vectors, fractals, sweeping arcs and dynamic circulatory systems. However, they can be overscaled and empty for pedestrians. Tourists in rental cars, experiencing the architecture and urbanism through their windshields, are a better served audience than residents for whom there is little human-scale nuance and architectural detail to reveal itself over the years.
The three fundamental values described in the Introduction as underlying this book - community, sustainable order and human spirit - can be loosely assigned to these three paradigms. New Urbanism, with its emphasis on environmental values and ecological design, most fully embraces sustainable order. Everyday Urbanism is most aligned with community and Post Urbanism with the human spirit, especially freedom. Everyday Urbanism is more driven by the compassion of agape and Post Urbanism by the freedom of arete, while New Urbanism seeks to balance these two basic human values. They all have intrinsic worth and their virtues are necessary and even liberative at the right time and place. But Everyday Urbanism is too often an urbanism of default rather than design, and Post Urbanism is too often an urbanism of sensational, trophy buildings in a public realm that is atrophied. We can build a more sustainably ordered and emancipatory commons than the latter two models promise. What the balance of this book argues is that in all sorts of historical, social, cultural, economic, architectural and urbanistic ways, New Urbanism is what the American metropolis would most benefit from now.
1 T. Zeldin. An Intimate History of Humanity, New York, Harper Collins,
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