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.
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/