An Introduction to New Urbanism and TND

Do You Walk to Work? Why Not?

Created by the Walt Disney Company, Celebration, Florida is a New Urbanist community.
Created by the Walt Disney Company, Celebration, Florida is a New Urbanist community. Photo by Preston C. Mack/Getty Images News Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

New Urbanism is an approach to designing cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Although the term New Urbanism emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the principles of New Urbanism are actually quite old. New Urbanist town planners, developers, architects, and designers try to reduce traffic and eliminate sprawl. "We build places people love," claims the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU).

" NEW URBANISM promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities."—

Characteristics of New Urbanism

A New Urbanist neighborhood resembles an old European village with homes and businesses clustered together. Instead of driving on highways, residents of New Urbanist neighborhoods can walk to shops, businesses, theaters, schools, parks, and other important services. Buildings and recreational areas are arranged to foster a sense of community closeness. New Urbanist designers also place importance on earth-friendly architecture, energy conservation, historic preservation, and accessibility.

" We all share the same goals: steering cities and towns away from sprawling development, building more beautiful and sustainable places, preserving historic assets and traditions, and providing a range of housing and transportation choices."— CNU

What Is Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND)?

New Urbanist communities sometimes are called Neotraditional Planning or Traditional Neighborhood Development. Similar to Neotraditional architecture, TND is a New Urbanist approach to designing cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Traditional (or Neotraditional) planners, developers, architects, and designers try to reduce traffic and eliminate sprawl. Homes, shops, businesses, theaters, schools, parks, and other important services are placed within easy walking distance. This "new-old" idea is sometimes called village-style development.

Massachusetts is a good example of a government that supports the development of "New England style" neighborhoods. "TND is based on the principle that neighborhoods should be walkable, affordable, accessible, distinctive, and in Massachusetts, true to the significant historic context of each community," they describe in their Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit. What do these neighborhoods look like?

  • Mixed-use neighborhoods
  • Compact and pedestrian-oriented (everything within walking distance)
  • Diverse housing types
  • Central public space
  • Parking behind buildings
  • Residences with front porches and rear garages

Smart Growth / Smart Energy projects throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts include the Villages at Hospital Hill in Northampton and the Dennisport Village Center and Mashpee Commons both on Cape Cod.

The first New Urbanist town was Seaside, Florida, built on the Gulf Coast in the early 1980s. Their Website claims "A simple, beautiful life" is in store for residents, yet the 1998 satirical and surreal movie The Truman Show was filmed there—and they seem proud of that.

Perhaps the most famous New Urbanist town is Celebration, Florida, which was built by a division of the Walt Disney Company. Like other planned communities, the house styles, colors, and construction materials are limited to the ones in the Town of Celebration catalog. Some people like that. Some people don't. This is a community still growing, with new construction of apartments and condominiums for the semi-urban professional population. In the United States, at least 600 New Urbanist neighborhoods have been planned, including  Harbor Town in Tennessee, Kentlands in Maryland, Addison Circle in Texas, Orenco Station in Oregon, The Cotton District in Mississippi, and Cherry Hill Village in Michigan.

A more comprehensive international list, with links to each community, is found in "TND Neighborhoods" in The Town Paper.

Congress for the New Urbanism

The CNU is a loosely formed group of architects, builders, developers, landscape architects, engineers, planners, real estate professions, and other people who are committed to New Urbanist ideals. Founded by Peter Katz in 1993, the group outlined their beliefs in a document known as the Charter of the New Urbanism.

Although New Urbanism has become popular, it has many critics. Some people say that New Urbanist towns are too carefully planned and feel artificial. Other critics say that New Urbanist towns take away personal freedom because residents must follow strict zoning rules before they build or remodel.

Are you a New Urbanist?

Take a moment to answer True or False to these statements:

  1. American cities need more open space.
  2. Residential areas should be separate from commercial activity.
  3. City building styles should express great diversity.
  4. American cities and towns need more parking.

Done? A New Urbanist may answer FALSE to all of these statements. Social critic and urbanist thinker James Howard Kunstler tells us that the design of America's cities should follow the traditions of old European villages—compact, walkable, and diverse in people and use of architecture, not necessarily diverse building styles. Cities without urban planning are unsustainable.

"Every time you put up a building not worth caring about, you contribute to a city not worth caring about and a country not worth caring about." ~James Howard Kunstler

Learn More from Kunstler

  • The Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler, 1994
  • Home from Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler, 1998
  • Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation by James Howard Kunstler, 2013
  • The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition by James Howard Kunstler, 2003

Source: Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND), Smart Growth/Smart Energy Toolkit, Commonwealth of Massachusetts [accessed July 4, 2014]