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Urban Issues

Andres Duany's Editorial Brawls and Agricultural New Urbanism


New Urbanism’s Andrés Duany is no stranger to editorial brawling, back in December I followed a progression of stories sparked by a his unveiling of a 64-point litany of mistakes that have been made by British architects and planners over the last 50 years. He charged architects with being infantile and too focused on ego and prestige, that they were “heedless of technical and social dysfunction and widespread lack of popularity” of their modernist designs. Well architects are a pretty sensitive bunch, and the flood gates opened; modernists struck back with an equally harsh criticism of Duany’s new urbanism. In the opening line of an article titled Thou shalt not follow Duany’s architectural gospel he is called the ‘Billy Graham of American architecture.”  The modernists claim that Duany with his strict guidelines for design and faux traditional styling lead to settlements more tailored to ‘wannabe Stepford Wives’ then real people. Next came an article by Stephen Bayle, and the gloves really came off when Bayle wrote  a scathing review of Poundbury, Duany’s British version of Seaside.

“To visit Poundbury is to be delivered to the furniture floor of a provincial department store in 1954, translated into architecture. It is fake, heartless, authoritarian and grimly cute.”  Then there were some salvo’s back by David Brussat who stated that “Prince Charles and Andrés Duany are making it harder for the modernists to whistle past the graveyard.”

Then today I came across another article in ARCADE where the magazine was good enough to reprint an exchange between Trevor Boddy and Andrés Duany from the editorial section of the Globe and Mail.  Duany has been selected to lead a design team that is heading up a plan by the Century Group for the Southlands project in the Vancouver suburb  of South Delta. Mr Boddy is most definitely not impressed with Duany’s plan and starts off an exchange between the two of them.


The 56th Street Interface A lake fronting on 56th Street will form the foreground of a pleasing vista over the open farmland. The lake will function as a reservoir for natural drainage and irrigation water. image courtesy of the southlands project — www.southlandsintransition.ca

I have to admit that while I generally agree with the principles of New Urbanism in terms of compact walkable communities after reading this exchange I don’t really understand how Duany’s position and plan for this town is in fact urban.

“Southlands, which is designed specifically to embody food self-sufficiency, devotes 42% of the land to agriculture and keeps 26% open for other purposes. That kind of diversity — and not a crude single standard — is what authentic urbanism calls for.”

42% of the land for agriculture? This sounds more like a farming town then an urban environment. He then goes on to specify that residences will have a significant amount of this space FOR agriculture. Of course specifying that the open space in your back yard is for urban agriculture does not by any way shape or means guarantee that it will actually be USED for agriculture. Sure food self sufficiency is an important direction for cities in the future but to assume that everyone is actually going to plant and tend a full garden in these yards is just a little naive. As a general rule people are just way too lazy for that, what happens when homeowners don’t decide to make use of these agricultural spaces? My guess is that it looks a lot like a lawn. Furthermore what is stopping existing suburban municipalities from claiming that they meet these qualifications for new urbanism, just convert those vanity lawns into gardens and you’ll be well on your way to new urbanism.

I know  I am over simplifying things  but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark . Take a look at the linked articles, decide for yourself, and please comment  if you have a different opinion. I would love to hear other perspectives on how you think we should build our cities. I think I should mention , I don’t think that the Southlands project is bad, it looks like a pretty nice place to live, I just dispute the statement that it is urban. It looks a lot like my grandmother’s town.

Not everyone agrees with me though; to read the perspective of people who love Southlands new  urbanist project go here: http://www.southlandsintransition.ca/


4 Responses to “Andres Duany's Editorial Brawls and Agricultural New Urbanism”

  1. If everyone continued to dismiss agricultural urbanism with such a quick flick of the tongue as “how do we know they will really raise food there?” then we’ll be forever condemned to the agricultural food chain where most of your food needs a passport to get to your table. You can’t pay people little enough in the US or Canada to tend and raise vegetables, put them in the industrial food chain, and sell them at Wal-Mart Everyday Low Prices. They’d put you in prison, because there’s this little detail known as wage laws.
    What to do? We MUST re-learn how to do agriculture around and in our cities, towns, villages, and hamlets. This means everything from the scale of the Employing Farm (which is big enough that you need to hire a few people to help you run it to the scale of the window garden.

    Posted by Steve Mouzon | 05/03/2009, 7:57 am
  2. I agree that agricultural urbanism is very very importaint, Steve you are very right on that! back yard gardening, greenhouse gardening, keeping chickens, and all that fun stuff are things that I heartily agree with. I hope that my post on this didn’t make anyone think that. My problem is with Duany’s new ‘urbanist’ design for the community. Its better then the old form of suburbia but still the larger green area and low density housing situation is more of a suburban then urban model. I think idealism is importaint, the belief that if we build it with great intentions then everyone will farm and use the space for gardening, but idealism in city building has lead to some pretty spectacular failures.

    Posted by mrbarham | 06/03/2009, 1:43 am
  3. I can’t imagine any of the developers I’ve ever worked with (and the list is significant) ever dedicating 42% of the property in a development to open space or “urban agricultural” areas if not required by a local government to do so. If this was done on the developer’s dime, I would love to read the market report that shows a pricing justification for the abandonment of such a large portion of what might otherwise be developable land.

    My suspision is that the land in question must be zoned for large “rural lifestyle” blocks and Duany’s pitch must be for a cluster development that creates a common agricultural district instead of developing typcial large rural lots. If that’s the case then good for him for figuring out a way to re-brand cluster developments.

    Posted by Andrew | 04/02/2010, 12:04 am
  4. I believe “neighbourhoods” rather than suburbs are what should be built. The idea of a mixed socioeconomic profile is important, this to be created by offering a variety of priced Dwelling Units. I not sure that the buildings are the principle concern, any city or urban area is essentially the people who live there. Within a region there could be various “neighbourhoods” who because of their style attract particular people. These areas then develop a character attractive for other people to visit. So, general create places of diversity within themselves & within a region. Deciding on one set of designs for building is unimportant. However, in order to ensure long term flexibility for modification all should be designed around a central OpenSpace/Village Square. This should incorporate an UrbanFarm, which should be cared for by a management body who are responsible for a number of neighbourhood farms, to ensure they are consistently well regarded, productive & maintained installations

    Posted by Michael Burgess | 31/08/2016, 7:09 am

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