Friday, April 3, 2009

HELLO new-new urbanism

The idea of new urbanism was developed a number of years ago by architects and planners in order to combat urban sprawl, tract housing, and all of those evil ideas.

A common criticism of new urbanism is that it exclusively creates community or private space; you are either always around people who you sort-of know, and are accountable to for your actions, or are by yourself/your family and are accountable to them. There is no 'public space' --- areas where you can be anonymously public or free to be loud or quiet, private or open without fear of long-term social consequences or judgements.

There is a corresponding concern about the architectural aesthetic that is often built in concert with new urbanist communities. Rather than encouraging or allowing diversity in the urban form, design is handicapped by neighbourhood restrictions (not always a bad idea...). An extreme example of this is the Disney-town of Celebration, FL. However, this is not the place for a discussion of architectural aesthetics but rather of community.

Returning to this idea of private/public/community space. One reaction to this criticism could be the new HELLO development in Brooklyn, NYC. The development is urban infill -- ie creates space within the existing urban fabric. The key word is 'within the existing urban fabric'; rather than demolishing or redeveloping an entire block, the buildings are small-scale interventions carefully inserted into a few block radius.

This allows the existing community of businesses, residences, etc to maintain their internal dynamic while slowly integrating new residents. Rather than a downtown-eastside feeling of 'street, big fence around wealthy enclave with amenities, street' (woodwards redevelopment?), they are forcing their residents to interact with the community at large. They are carefully placing a new social/built network into an urban environment.

The network is facilitated by the following: within each building in the HELLO development there are community facilities available to HELLO residents: a pool, wi-fi lounge, exercise room, kid's area, etc. They are accessed by a key card available to all residents. This means a trip to an amenity could start in 'private' space (your home), enter 'public' space (the street), and end in 'community' space (HELLO's gym). This combination allows residents to feel safe (at home), interact with the community-at-large on the street, and finally exclusive (only they access their amenities).

I know there are numerous discussions about the merit of exclusivity and community; at the same time everyone loves the feeling of being in a secret club!

Are developments like this the future of new urbanism? How would this work in Vancouver? Could this be applied to other communities -- artist's studios, offices, etc -- could we create networks of communities that require the same resources, but do not need to share a physical, built connection?

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