Enemies of New Urbanism

Wide Roads: Wide / multi-lane roads are a problem because they have a lot of traffic, are difficult to cross, and are generally considered to be “unsafe.” One of the objectives of urban planning is to design communities that are pedestrian-friendly, and when people don’t feel safe walking on a road they are forced to drive their cars. Who wants to walk down a road when there are three lanes of traffic flashing by at 45 mph.?

Streets without sidewalks:
Additionally, streets without sidewalks are a major problem because sidewalks are the key elements for pedestrian-friendly environments. Without a sidewalk people are more likely to be involved in accidents and less likely to travel by foot.

Culde-sacs: Culde-sacs are one of the most devastating problems with the traditional suburban community because they impede traffic flow (cars and people) and segregate residents from one another. Nobody wants to walk down a street with a cul-de-sac because these streets are dead-ends and they lack human activity. These traffic patterns should only be used when the topography of the land is unfit for a road to continue.

Front Garages: Garages located towards the front of the house are also troublesome, and the emerging belief in urban planning is that garages should not be visible on the street – they should be situated behind the house or on a rear alley. This belief is gaining popularity because the rear placement of garages makes houses look more appealing and better defines the public space (this will increase pedestrian traffic). In an architectural sense garages are generally ugly and do not add to the appeal of a house. In current suburban designs garages are being placed at the forefront of houses and often times these structures distract from the beauty of the houses.
Large Retail Stores: Large retail stores such as Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, Food Lion, and Best Buy have added to suburban sprawl in the U.S. because they decrease pedestrian activity and reduce the need for smaller/specialty stores. First of all these large retailers build huge parking lots in front of their stores. These parking lots decrease the attractiveness of walking and the architectural beauty of the landscape. Additionally, these stores “steal” the business away from smaller stores, and reduce the livelihood of smaller hopping districts or the traditional Main-Street area.


  1. Stacy McMahon

    My advice is to read Jane Jacobs, William H. Whyte, David Brooks, and others who have written on suburbia. You’ve identified a lot of aesthetic issues and a few practical ones (lack of sidewalks for example) but you won’t get far arguing strictly from that perspective against citizens and policymakers who are primarily worried about traffic and property values, or environmental and social issues.

    I’m studying urban planning at Virginia Tech in Alexandria and I encourage you to go for the degree if you think you want it. It’s a very interesting field, especially for someone with GIS experience and/or an interest in several areas of policy and human experience.

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