New Urbanism

1 New Urbanism

New Urbanism is a planning and design theory that promotes sustainable and walkable communities with mixed-use development, transportation options, and access to public spaces. This movement aims to combat urban sprawl and promote social interaction and positive community development.

The New Urbanism philosophy emphasizes the conservation of land and the integration of various forms of infrastructure to create well-rounded communities. By implementing the principles of New Urbanism, urban planners and designers aim to create healthier, more livable communities for people of all ages and backgrounds.  While the principles of New Urbanism have validity, it should be noted that critics have a strong list of problems with New Urbanism designs.  



  1. Learn the principles of New Urbanism
  2. Think about the critiques of New Urbanism


Key Takeaways:

  • New Urbanism is an urban design movement that emphasizes walkability, mixed-use development, and community-oriented planning.
  • The principles of New Urbanism include pedestrian-friendly design, mixed-use zoning, public spaces, and a sense of community, which help promote sustainable living and reduce dependence on cars.
  • New Urbanism has faced criticism and challenges, such as concerns regarding affordability, gentrification, and the need for transportation alternatives. However, examples of successful New Urbanist projects exist in places like Seaside, Florida and Celebration, Florida.

History of New Urbanism

The Emergence of Urbanism Movement: A Brief Insight into the Past

New Urbanism is a contemporary urban design and planning concept that emerged in the 1980s. It aims to create walkable communities that are sustainable and promote social interaction. The movement seeks to address issues of sprawl and promote actual urbanization. Architects, planners, and community leaders founded it after perceiving that modern American urban design was unsustainable and had negative impacts on society and the environment.

New urbanism advocates for traditional planning principles, including mixed-use development, transit-oriented design, and human-scale architecture. It promotes greater walkability and bikeability, affordability, and community cohesion. It also emphasizes the need for collaborative planning processes that involve the community in the design of public spaces.

The adoption of new urbanism principles continues to grow across the United States, with many communities embracing the idea. Its focus on sustainability, livability, and social interaction has made it a popular approach to urbanization.

Problems that New Urbanists want to challenge

New Urbanism began as a reaction to conventional suburban planning as it has been practiced in the United States since the 1940s. New Urbanists view the decentralized, auto-oriented suburb as a recipe for disaster.

  • Disinvestment in central cities
  • Spread of placeless sprawl
  • Increasing separation by race and income
  • Environmental deterioration
  • Loss of agricultural lands and wilderness
  • Erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge


Principles of New Urbanism

One key aspect of this movement is the implementation of pedestrian-friendly design, which prioritizes the needs of those who walk, bike, or use public transportation. Mixed-use zoning and development also play an important role in New Urbanism, allowing for a blending of residential, commercial, and industrial spaces. Furthermore, public spaces are a critical component, providing an area for people to gather, engage with each other, and participate in community activities. Ultimately, the principles of New Urbanism aim to create a sense of community and belonging, fostering a greater connection between individuals and their neighborhood.


Pedestrian-friendly design

In urban planning, creating walkable environments is an essential component of a successful public space. Pedestrian-friendly design prioritizes the needs of walkers over vehicles, through elements that facilitate mobility, promote safety and enhance comfort for people on foot. With this approach, New Urbanism emphasizes designing streetscapes that work for pedestrians first and then vehicles.

For instance, incorporating sidewalks with accessible paths for strollers or wheelchairs, installing street lights to create comfortable illumination at night and having benches for people to relax or watch the world go by are all examples of pedestrian-friendly design interventions that increase walkability within an urban setting.


Moreover, focusing on pedestrian-friendly design encourages transportation on foot rather than individually owned cars while addressing issues related to health and safety, environmental benefits and accessibility concerns.

Important aspects of pedestrian-friendly design:

  • SpaceHaving enough space to walk is an essential component of how we feel about the action. Whether we are walking on the footway of a street or through pedestrianised squares or corridors. The reason is, how much space we have as an individual and how close we are to other people – heavily impacts on our comfort levels.
  • Safety How safe a place feels to walk, whether that’s in relation to motor vehicles or safety from other people, crime and our perceptions of safety.
  • Attractiveness Streets need to be designed with making the environment as attractive as possible so that people will want to walk there rather than use another transport option or walk a different route.
  • Enjoyability and Active StreetsLinked to attractiveness, making walking enjoyable, fun and providing a purpose outside of the act of moving is important and a key part of encouraging people to walk.
  • ConnectivityHow connected a street or place is to the rest of a city, specifically for pedestrians is key, because without it you aren’t going to get many people walking there




Mixed-use zoning and development

In this model, commercial spaces occupy street-level floors while residential units are situated above. The mixed-use zoning principle can also be extended to include public spaces such as parks, plazas, and playgrounds, which contribute to creating a social environment.


For businesses in mixed-use developments to thrive, developers must strategically plan where they build. They should consider factors such as transportation routes, market needs and consumer behaviors when determining the right locations.

The use of mixed-use zoning has faced resistance from some traditionalists who have voiced concerns about reduced privacy and increased noise levels. At the same time, mixed-use zoning is illegal in many cities. 

However, despite these challenges, mixed-use developments have proven successful in helping to meet the changing demands of urban dwellers while sustaining community life.


Public spaces

The concept of public spaces is a significant aspect of New Urbanism, which emphasizes the need for social interaction and community building. It advocates lively areas where people can spend quality time outdoors, promoting active engagement among individuals from diverse backgrounds.

New Urbanists consider public spaces as both functional and cultural; effective in fostering social networks as well as providing convenient spots for various services such as street vendors or cafes. These spaces help create a sense of belongingness to the vibrant community they are a part of.

Moreover, urban designers incorporate specific features that make these spaces more attractive and accessible, including greenery, street furniture and interactive installations. Effective public spaces ensure that safety aspects are taken into consideration while still appeasing the residents’ aesthetic preferences.


Sense of community

In New Urbanism, creating a sense of community is a fundamental principle. It involves designing and building neighborhoods that foster social interaction among residents, promote personal relationships, and enhance a shared identity.

To achieve this, New Urbanists often incorporate various features such as front porches, community gardens, local gathering places and pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. Additionally, mixed-use development allows people to live in close proximity to where they work or shop helping them develop closer connections with their surroundings.

Moreover, these neighborhoods usually have walkable streets and green spaces that encourage residents to interact with each other regularly. These initiatives lead to increased social engagement among residents who not only get to know each other but also become actively involved in shaping the community’s future.


Examples of New Urbanism in Practice

Seaside, Florida

Seaside is the great-granddaddy of New Urbanism. An innovative design, engineering, and development playbook created by a group of renegade architects in the 1980s lead by Andres Duany and Liz Plater-Zyberk together with a long-term-oriented developer to recreate the town-building playbook from the pre-subdivision era.


12 ways Seaside changed history (Source: How a Florida beach town changed how we live)

  • Walkability: Seaside stands as one of the first newly-built communities since the 1920s to accommodate pedestrians—thanks to traffic calming, small lot sizes and shared-space streets where people on foot, bike and cars co-exist. 
  • Mixed-use development: A fresh approach to urban planning which recognizes that a healthy mix of live/work/play activities enlivens a community.
  • New Urbanism: An design movement restoring key urban features like street life, local businesses and neighborly gathering spots to modern life.   
  • Compact communities: The realization that living close to shopping, services, recreation and your neighbors fosters lively social connections as well as saving time, money and stress.
  • Traditional neighborhood design: The resurrection of enduring design elements that define the character of places we love from Santa Fe to New England villages, but which were outlawed under most 20th Century zoning codes.
  • Urban village: Boosting everyone’s sense of community and personal ease with a town center where people can meet most everyday needs within a 5- to 15- minute stroll. 
  • Traditional affordable housing: A revival of overlooked practices that sprinkle lower-income homes into neighborhoods, including small houses, apartments tucked above shops, and backyard granny flats (also known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.) 
  • Natural sustainable landscaping: Instead of planting yards with grass, using native plants that require minimal water and provide shade that keeps houses cooler (also known as xeriscapes). 
  • Public space and commons: Setting aside natural or community amenities to be enjoyed together rather than hidden behind someone’s backyard fence—a trademark of great 19th Century designers but largely forgotten until recently.
  • Form-based codes: A 21st Century approach to zoning that ensures safe, stable communities but also fosters the essential ingredients for vibrant place—flexibility and evolution—by paying attention to the physical characteristics of buildings, not just how they will be used.
  • Incremental development: Building a new community a few blocks at a time—rather than all at once—which opens opportunities to improve and refine plans based on real-lived experience. 
  • A town, not a development: The Florida real estate industry was shocked when Seaside developer Robert Davis gambled on creating an entire beachfront community, not just a strip of condos on the water.  



Harbor Town, Memphis, Tennessee

In the early 1980’s, the city of Memphis made plans to extend I-240’s northern section and create an Inner Loop around the city, and doing so would have required building onto the small peninsula called Mud Island. Mud Island is separated from downtown Memphis by Wolf River Harbor, and at the time it was an empty stretch of land along the Mississippi. Memphis saw the empty space as a good place for a highway extension, but local developer Henry Turley felt that this would be an incredible waste of potential. Coordinating efforts with local interest groups such as Future Memphis, Inc. and Greater Memphis Chamber, Turley successfully petitioned the city to leave Mud Island alone. A few year later, the property foreclosed and Turley was able to purchase the 132 acre property for only $2.25 million.

Recognizing the opportunity he had to create something unique just across the Harbor from downtown Memphis, Turley decided he wanted to make a community that was neither urban nor suburban, but something in between that would revive more traditional maxims of town planning. Given that the land had been acquired as a result of not wanting cars to dominate Mud Island, the team agreed that this should be a highly walkable community that reduces its residents’ need for cars.


A grocery and a school are featured in the Town Center, along with restaurants, professional office, and other businesses. The town also includes a bilingual daycare, an upscale inn, a health clinic, and a marina that can house up to 50 boats. Harbor Town itself is divided into three major districts—the Garden District, the Village District, and the Harbor District—all separated by a wetlands retention feature that snakes through town like a small river.


Source: Congress for the New Urbanism



Stapleton, Colorado 

Largest New Urbanism project in the United States located 15-minutes from Denver at the site of a former airport.  



But Stapleton has not lived up to expectations.  Read “A Case Study in Flawed Street Design” from Bloomberg News.  


Glenwood Park, Atlanta, Georgia

28-acre site in southeast Atlanta that was a concrete recycling center.  Today, it has single family homes, condominiums, offices, restaurants, and sits near two major grocery stores.  The BeltLine runs nearby.  



Comparison with Traditional Urbanism and Suburbanism

Traditional Urbanism and Suburbanism compared to New Urbanism

New Urbanism is a concept that aims to promote sustainable and community-oriented living in urban areas. Compared to traditional urbanism and suburbanism, new urbanism offers a host of distinct advantages, such as walkability, mixed-use zoning, and compact development. Here’s a comparison table that highlights the major differences between the three:

Traditional Urbanism Suburbanism New Urbanism
Zoning Separation of land uses Separation of land uses Mixed-use zoning
Density High density development Low density development Medium density development
Transportation Relying on automobiles Relying on automobiles Pedestrian-friendly, walkable
Amenities Limited amenities in residential areas Limited amenities in residential areas Walkable access to amenities
Green spaces Limited green spaces Large, spread-out green spaces Parks and green spaces incorporated into development

Notably, new urbanism offers the best of both traditional urbanism and suburbanism, with a convenient mix of residential, commercial, and civic uses, coupled with ample green spaces and convenient transportation options within a walkable environment.

This approach has several benefits, such as increased social interaction, reduced traffic congestion, opportunities for sustainable living, and improved quality of life. Therefore, embracing new urbanism can unlock a range of benefits for urban living.


Criticisms and Challenges to New Urbanism

New Urbanism has undergone criticisms and challenges in its implementation.

  • Cost: One of the criticisms of New Urbanism is that it can be expensive to implement. The design principles of New Urbanism often require higher-quality materials and construction techniques, which can drive up the cost of development. This can make it difficult to implement New Urbanism in lower-income areas or in areas where the real estate market is not strong enough to support higher-priced developments.
  • Aesthetics: Another criticism of New Urbanism is that it can be too prescriptive. The design principles of New Urbanism are based on a set of guidelines that are intended to create a specific type of community. However, some critics argue that this can lead to a lack of diversity in the built environment. They argue that communities should be allowed to develop organically, rather than being forced to conform to a specific design aesthetic.
  • Social impact: Some critics argue that New Urbanist developments can have a negative impact on social cohesion. This is because they often lack the diversity of people and businesses that are found in traditional urban neighborhoods.
  • Private ownership of public spaces: In New Urbanists developments, public space is not truly public.  Instead it is controlled by a private homeowners association that can dictate who and what is allowed within the community’s shared space 
  • Physical changes don’t solve social problems: Finally, some critics argue that New Urbanism is too focused on the physical design of communities, and does not address broader social and economic issues. They argue that simply creating walkable neighborhoods and mixed-use developments is not enough to address issues such as poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. They argue that a more holistic approach is needed to create truly sustainable and livable communities.



If you are interested in reading more about critics of New Urbanism, check out “The New Urbanism and the Communitarian Trap” by David Harvey


Future of New Urbanism

As our cities continue to grow and evolve, the ongoing development of urban communities will play a crucial role in shaping the future of modern civilization. With the aim of promoting sustainable and livable communities that prioritize walkability, transit options, and mixed-use development, New Urbanism is a progressive approach to urban planning that is proving to be increasingly relevant in today’s world. As cities continue to expand and evolve, it is clear that the Future of New Urbanism holds the key to creating truly smart, sustainable, and resilient communities that meet the needs of everyone, from residents and businesses to the surrounding environment.

One significant aspect of the Future of New Urbanism lies in the ever-growing demand for space-efficient and multi-functional urban design. As urban populations continue to grow at unprecedented rates worldwide, it is clear that traditional urban planning models are struggling to meet the needs of modern societies. New Urbanism offers a fresh perspective on urban planning, focusing on mixed-use development, efficient transportation systems and sustainable design that can effectively address the challenges facing modern urban communities. With a strong emphasis on public space, walkability, and community involvement, New Urbanism has the potential to revolutionize not only the way we live but also the way we connect with each other and the environment around us.

Furthermore, as the impacts of climate change become more apparent in our cities, the role of New Urbanism in promoting sustainable living is becoming increasingly important. By focusing on mixed-use, compact and walkable development, New Urbanism encourages alternative modes of transportation, such as cycling and public transit, which can reduce our reliance on cars and decrease emissions accordingly. With an eye toward the Future of New Urbanism, designers and planners can continue to build on these innovative approaches in order to create resilient and adaptable urban communities that can withstand the challenges of a rapidly changing world.


Conclusion and Takeaways

Urban Design Lessons Learned: Key Insights to Consider

When it comes to New Urbanism, it is important to note that the success of urban design lies in its approach in creating vibrant communities. It is critical to prioritize walkability, connectivity, sustainability, and mixed-use development. Additionally, public spaces and community involvement play a critical role in achieving this.

As we delve deeper into creating communities, it is imperative to consider emphasis on creating diverse public spaces, incorporating community input in the design, and fostering a sense of collective responsibility towards urban spaces are key factors in successful urban design.

Regarding the implementation of New Urbanism principles, it is important to recognize that building communities takes time. It is critical to prioritize a long-term vision, foster partnerships and collaboration, and embrace flexibility in the design process.

To ensure success in urban design, we must prioritize bridging the gap between design and community input. It is necessary to promote awareness around the benefits of New Urbanism and encourage participation in community initiatives. Failure to act may lead to missed opportunities for sustainable, vibrant and connected communities.

Five Facts About Introduction to New Urbanism:

  • ✅ New Urbanism is a design philosophy that focuses on creating walkable, mixed-use communities with a sense of place. 
  • ✅ The movement originated in the 1980s as a response to urban sprawl and the dominance of automobile-oriented development. 
  • ✅ New Urbanism emphasizes the importance of public space, creating a sense of community, and integrating with the natural environment. 
  • ✅ The principles of New Urbanism have been applied in the development of entire communities, such as Seaside, Florida, and Celebration, Florida. 
  • ✅ New Urbanism has been criticized for perpetuating gentrification and not addressing issues of affordable housing and social equity. 

FAQs about Introduction To New Urbanism

What are the principles of New Urbanism?

New Urbanism is a planning and development approach that aims to create walkable, mixed-use communities that are both socially and environmentally sustainable.  The principles of New Urbanism include designing neighborhoods that are compact and walkable, with a mix of uses and a range of housing options. New Urbanism also emphasizes the importance of creating public spaces that are accessible and attractive, such as parks, plazas, and streetscapes.

How does New Urbanism differ from conventional urban planning?

New Urbanism seeks to create walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods with a strong sense of community. It differs from conventional urban planning in that it emphasizes the importance of human-scale design, the integration of different land uses, and the creation of public spaces that foster social interaction and a sense of place. Conventional urban planning, on the other hand, often prioritizes the needs of cars over people, leading to sprawling, auto-dependent communities that lack a sense of place and community. It also tends to separate land uses, with residential areas separated from commercial areas and industrial areas, leading to long commutes and a lack of walkability.

What role does public transportation play in New Urbanism?

Public transportation plays a crucial role in New Urbanism as it promotes walkability, reduces traffic congestion, and encourages sustainable development. New Urbanism emphasizes the importance of mixed-use development, which means that residential, commercial, and recreational areas are integrated into one community. Public transportation is necessary to connect these different areas and make them easily accessible to residents. In addition, public transportation in New Urbanism is designed to be efficient and convenient, with frequent and reliable service. This encourages people to use public transportation instead of driving, which reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.


Quick Check

What were the problems with Stapleton’s street design?

Large roadways

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More on-street parking than necessary

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Streets don’t connect to city grid 

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All of the above

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Check Answer




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