Architecture, Urban Design and Conservatism

I have always been fascinated by the impact of architecture and urban design on our sense of community and belonging. Here is an article that explores that topic from the viewpoint of political conservatism. Interesting.

Since Austin is one of the least dense / most sprawling cities in the country I've excerpted a section dealing with "New Urbanism" and land use codes. The article suggests that we should offer dual codes and let the market decide who "wins."


New Urbanism does not need government compulsion to succeed. It will do far better if it relies on the free market. The mechanism that opens New Urbanism to the free market is dual codes. Every urban area should offer developers two codes, one sprawl, the other intended to facilitate Traditional Neighborhood Design. The sprawl codes are already in place; they are the only codes in most of America. They demand separation of home, shopping, and work by distances too great to walk, and the suburbs they create, with large lots and often no sidewalks, depend completely on the automobile. (As New Urbanist founder Andrés Duany says, “If a Martian came to earth, he would conclude that the first article of the U.S. Constitution states, ‘Cars must be happy’.”) Sprawl promotes “strip” stores dominated by parking lots and, from sea to shining sea, as ugly as anything this country ever built. Sprawl usually forces long commutes on workers, during which they must spend hours daily sitting in traffic. The assumption behind sprawl, as well as one of its effects, is that individuals or families live isolated lives, having little or nothing to do with their neighbors.

New Urbanist codes, of which there are several, share an intention of walkability. People should be able to walk from their homes to their schools, churches, shops, and workplaces, or to rail stations where they can take fast, comfortable public transportation to and from work. This is called “mixed use” development, and it is what you see in old towns and “trolley suburbs,” near-in neighborhoods that grew up along the trolley lines. People still have cars, but they are no longer dependent on them, nor does every member of a family have to have his or her own automobile. You can shop at a downtown you can walk to, and those downtowns look like old towns and cities, not strip malls.

With dual codes, it would be up to the developer to decide which code he wants to use. In many situations, he stands to make more money if he follows the New Urbanist code. Why? Because houses designed to a New Urbanist code usually sell for substantially more per square foot of space. Duany’s beautiful TND development of Kentlands in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., sells for about $30,000 more than a same-sized house in surrounding sprawl developments. People looking for houses see Kentlands and say, “Here’s where I want to live!” Beauty, proportionality, human scale, walkability, all the things New Urbanism offers, are marketable goods. They do not require government compulsion to prevail over sprawl. They just require that government, in the form of sprawl-only codes, get out of the way.