Monday, May 29, 2017

Are New Urbanists Sanctimonious?

Check out the last paragraph of this post on The Source, LA Metro's transit blog.  The suggestion is that new urbanists are sanctimonious, which one dictionary defines as "hypocritically pious or devout."  So the idea that new urbanists are sanctimonious is both a charge of hypocrisy and a kind of metaphorical implication that new urbanism is like a religion that people just passively accept without any kind of evidence.

I definitely count myself among the ranks of the new urbanists, meaning, in a nutshell, I think it would be amazing if cities were denser and mixed uses more so that we'd have more housing opportunities, be able to support means of transportation besides driving and destroy less natural habitat.  The Charter for the New Urbanism is a pretty good summary of what new urbanism is.

First off, let me say this: criticism is good.  We should be willing to examine the things that we believe and be willing to change our minds if compelling evidence is presented that we are wrong.  New urbanism itself is highly critical of conventional suburban development patterns, which are cherished by many.  It's only reasonable to assume that if you criticize something, you're going to piss certain people off and get a backlash.  So it would be strange for a new urbanist to have never encountered criticism of new urbanism.  I mean, it's only fair that if you talk smack about the status quo, the status quo's going to talk smack about you.

Secondly, am I being hypocritical in my advocacy for new urbanism?  Yes and no.  I live in a townhouse in a walkable neighborhood that I sought out by choice, but I do drive my car a lot more than I used to.  But wait, new urbanism isn't calling for banning all cars.  The Charter actually says "In the contemporary metropolis, development must adequately accommodate automobiles.  It should do so in ways that respect the pedestrian and the form of public space."  I'd love to take transit to work, or go car free like I was in grad school, but unfortunately the transit that takes me from where I live to where I work isn't very good, and with a five-month-old baby, I don't have as much free time as I used to.  That said, I know my driving contributes to global warming and negative health outcomes for people who need to live near freeways and I'm not done searching for ways to drive less while maintaining a high quality of life.  I also work with people who have very different views than I do about what makes a good city, but we still work together because that's the professional thing to do, and in planning, as in life, you never get to deal with people who agree with you 100% all the time.

Thirdly, for me new urbanism isn't a religion.  I'm actually agnostic, so it's weird for people to accuse me of being too religious, especially if they're religious.  I just think new urbanism is a good set of ideas, one that inspired me to get into city planning and that I want more people to be able to know about and act on.  The Charter isn't a sacred text, it's a starting point for a lot of great discussions for how to make cities work better for everyone.

So with all due respect, I don't think I'm sanctimonious, I just think my preferred system of development works better than conventional development patterns at promoting the things that I care about.  If we spent more time doing new urbanism and less time surrounding rail stations with single-family homes, allowing crappy bus stops to persist and raising transit fares, we might not be reading as many headlines about transit ridership declines in Los Angeles.

No comments:

Post a Comment