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Walkable communities a pedestrian dream
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"The East Coast and West Coast brands are a little different," he says. "The West-Coast version tends to emphasize environmental friendliness and connectivity with mass transit. On the East Coast, it's more about traditional architectural styles and values. You could say the West Coast new urbanists came out of a hippie background, while their East Coast counterparts look toward Europe and are more conservative."

California architect Barry Berkus, president of B3 Architects and Planners and Berkus Design Studio, and a nationally recognized speaker on city planning issues, sees a tendency among new urbanists to impose a single formula for community design on disparate landscapes.

"A lot of it has nothing to do with the quality of the land," he says, "but with imposing a pattern, no matter what the geography."

Berkus also thinks new urbanism goes too far by embracing Mayberry-like design elements in pursuit of aesthetically pleasing, pedestrian-friendly environments. He questions common neotraditional design touches such as front porches and rear-alley access to garages on single-family-home lots.

"Porches were great when people had to sit outside until it cooled down," says Berkus. "Alleys were fantastic when people had coal delivered to the rear. There was a certain amount of practicality involved. Now the first thing people are concerned about is security. They're worried about people gaining access through the back of the house."

Too much attention to the small-town look, says Marshall, often produces neighborhoods that "are really conventional suburbs. In trying to copy the feel of a small town, you lose some of the good things about conventional suburbs."

For example, he says, because TND relegates parking to alleys behind homes, "the houses don't have good backyards. They compromise with a ceremonial front yard that doesn't serve the same purposes."

But if new urbanism is unrealistic in some respects, even its critics agree it's playing a significant role in finding workable ways to loosen the stranglehold of the automobile on modern life.

"There's no black-and-white solution," Berkus says. "All this started because the subdivisions developed in the city were not very pretty. Somebody needed to raise a red flag. The new urbanists did, and rightfully so."

Marshall agrees.

"Even though I think they don't work as advertised in many respects, neotraditional communities do attract those interested in community living where they're friendly with their neighbors -- and those people are quite happy in them."

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Posted: Feb. 23, 2006
More stories by Marilyn Bowden
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