Urban Design Divide: New Urbanism vs. Landscape Urbanism

GSD Territories of Urbanism | Photo © Justin Knight Photography | via UrbanOmnibus

Here in Europe, the practice of urbanism and urban planning is defined mostly by geographical context or particular qualities–such as the approach to cars, or the fact that for example, here in Catalonia, it is architects that are in charge of urbanism and planning, resulting in a design-based approach at all scales (building, neighborhood, city and territory). But in the U.S. urban design is represented, divided even, in two distinct and apparently opposing, movements. Here we’ll take a brief look at the difference between New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism and offer a roundup of articles over the last few years that exposes the clash between them and digs into the debate (see below). First a brief overview:

New Urbanism, as defined in Wikipedia, is an urban design movement, which promotes walkable neighborhoods that contain a range of housing and job types. It arose in the United States in the early 1980s, and has gradually continued to reform many aspects of real estate development, urban planning, and municipal land-use strategies.  It’s leading advocates include Andrés Duany and Ellen Dunham-Jones.

Landscape Urbanism, as defined in Wikipedia, is a theory of urbanism arguing that landscape, rather than architecture, is more capable of organizing the city and enhancing the urban experience. It emerged as a theory in the last fifteen years, led by Charles Waldheim, James Corner, Chris Reed, Mohsen Mostafavi and others.

© Dhiru Thadani for New Urban Network

So where’s the conflict? Bottom line, as Alex Steffen put it in his article cited below: New Urbanism says it’s where you put the houses that matters, Landscape Urbanism says it’s what you put around them. New Urbanism, more hardcore urbanists have long charged, can end up being just “sprawl in drag.” Landscape Urbanism, unless it addresses the physics of underlying systems (transportation, housing, manufacturing), threatens to be just “sprawl in a pretty green dress”. 

Yet others say it’s turned into a personality contest...

image via New Urban Network

Whether it’s New Urbanism accusing Landscape Urbanism of being apologists for sprawl or Landscape Urbanists criticizing New Urbanist’s traditional neighborhoods as old-fashioned and obsolete, the heated debate sometimes makes us wonder, Can’t we all just get along? Certainly there are concepts from either side that each can embrace to strengthen the practice of urbanism at large. With the issue of repairing sprawl and addressing intermediate landscapes forming the core of our academic program, we thought it worthwhile to look closely at this debate in order to find clues as to what a more holistic approach would look like, which is essentially the kind of approach we espouse through our methodology. In our view, rather than taking one side or the other, real progress lies in identifying the strategies that do work in order to build a more effective and sustainable urban practice overall.

Here’s the reading list, in chronological order:

The Landscape Urbanism: Sprawl in a Pretty Green Dress? | Planetizen Oct 2010

Duany vs Harvard GSD | Metropolis Nov 2010

Landscape Urbanism & New Urbanism: it shouldn’t be so divisive | The Power of the Network Nov 10 2010

GSD Throwdown: Battle for the Intellectual Territory of a Sustainable Urbanism | Nov 2010

Emily Talen on Landscape Urbanism: A tire in the park | New Urban Network Nov 2010

Ecological Urbanism: Interview with Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA

Green building: Are cities the best place to live? Are suburbs OK? A fight grows in urban planning, with Harvard at the center | Boston Globe Jan 2011

Landscape Urbanism, New Urbanism and the Future of Cities | Alex Steffen Feb 2011

Street fight: Landscape Urbanism versus New Urbanism | New Urban Network June 2011

Kunstler Critiques Landscape Urbanism’s Charles Waldheim’s talk at CNU – Part 1 [AUDIO] | KunstlerCast July 14, 2011

Let us know what you think!

2 Responses to “Urban Design Divide: New Urbanism vs. Landscape Urbanism”
  1. Ideally, aspects of New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism would be combined to create the most ideal living situations. Communities that are developed through sustainable planning and architecture, and which are also located near desirable natural resources, foster the most benefits for both individuals and the environment.

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