Google the word “urban” and these are the first images you’ll see. I know because I did this 30 seconds before starting this post.
As perceptions go, this is what people often think about when they conjure the image of urbanism. Skyscrapers, loud, fast, aggressive traffic, and suffocating density… the stereotypes of big cities like New York.
And, to be clear, these places are some of the most powerfully efficient economic and social generators on our planet. Skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of big city life certainly embody components of New Urban philosophy. But to be clear, this is also New Urbanism…
Nestled at the north end of Seneca Lake, the 10,000-strong city of Geneva, New York in the Finger Lakes Region is rekindling a connection to a thriving downtown. Small businesses, shops, restaurants and breweries, along with new apartment living are re-stoking the fire of this little urban oasis. Geneva’s new energy is being realized around a downtown where everything you might need is within walking distance. Home, work and entertainment are all available within a few charming blocks of this little city’s core.
New Urbanistic construction, which prioritizes mixed use development, density, alternative transportation choices and human-scale street design, is in part a driving force behind a new wave of development in cities, neighborhoods and communities big and small. But re-imagining the built environment is a bi-product of a greater mindset that is based on the desire to return to the functional neighborhood, where everything a person could need is accessible on foot, by bike, or using convenient public transit. One in which big box stores are a secondary option, not the first and only. One in which we can choose to leave our cars behind and run a series of errands on foot. It is having the ability to live near jobs, resources and entertainment, all within a human scale distance instead of an 6-15 mile drive.
“Urbanism” doesn’t have a predefined density per square mile, or a city population… it simply seeks to maximize the potential of every community, big and small. Increasing density while creating greater livability also feeds into a more robust small business culture. Investing in sustainable mobility modes, be it upgrading sidewalks or building light rail and everything in between, shows a desire for human-scale commitment. Creating approachable mixed use space can ensure that shops and restaurants are blended with the fabric of our livable neighborhoods. Public space gives every resident the opportunity to engage with the natural beauty of our planet, or a social center of engagement… or just a great place to sit and have a cup of coffee. Mixed use buildings and communities boldly cast aside the outdated notions of zoning by blending commercial space with residential and office units.
Urbanism isn’t about density, tall buildings and never-ending ribbons of pavement. Urbanism is about creating spaces that appeal to people. It is about communities that create equity and vibrancy. It’s is about realizing that car dependence has made our cities less efficient, less sustainable and less safe. These elements, and many more, can be applied to small towns and big cities as we simply try to recover from decades of de-humanizing our communities in favor of the fast-paced, big box commuting life. Our communities deserve better, and and will be better when we embrace the comforting guidance of New Urbanism.