A Placemaking Journal

Back to the Farm (And to the Bunker)

Just when reporters were beginning to buy into the hopefulness of “sprawl repair” and “ag is the new golf,” Andres Duany trips them up with visions of the dark side. Or at least the really hard side, as in the hard work ahead if we’re to reverse the direction of 20th century excesses.

“Our wealth as a nation allowed us to become stupid in planning and we separated everything – residential areas, commercial, industrial,” Duany told an Oregon audience May 12. “Our wealth allowed us to do that for 50 years – but those days are over.” (The full report can be found here.)

Then, during CNU 18 in Atlanta, he shared his perspective on what it will take to fix the mistakes. Perhaps, said Duany, we should go back to the mid-19th century and start over.

Not surprisingly, media types unaccustomed to Duany’s passion for skewering sacred beef – including those in his own herd – sensed “cognitive dissonance.” Here’s Greg Lindsay, blogging for FastCompany.

“Thirty years after Duany first formulated (New Urbanists’) basic principles, they have far outgrown their image as the advocates of quaint cottages (see: Seaside, Florida; Celebration, Florida) and are really in the business of finding spatial fixes to social challenges, whether public health, water scarcity, affording housing, disaster relief, or the future of good. What they can’t agree on is the scope of the problem — should they be making the best of suburban America’s bad situation, or building lifeboats for the end of the world?”

The answer is both, plus a lot of stuff in between. Duany and his DPZ firm — along with Ellen Dunham-Jones and co-author June Williamson who wrote Retrofitting Suburbia — have been advocating something slightly different than “making the best of suburban America’s bad situation.” They advocate identifying potential sprawl targets to retrofit for livability. Needless to say, not every sprawling suburb is worth of the effort.

That retrofitting initiative is in addition to the preferred alternatives for development and redevelopment in urban neighborhoods, to preserving working ag in more rural locations, and to planning for transect-zone appropriate farming and gardening elsewhere.

Credit former Dwell editor and New York Times blogger Allison Arieff for being among the first in the mainstream media to make the connections. Using Duany’s “ag is the new golf” quip as a theme, she provided a comprehensive overview in an April NYT blog. But FastCompany’s Lindsay got it mostly right when he described the new sense of urgency in Duany and other New Urbanists who’ve been watching the gap growing between the challenges ahead and the money and political will to face them. Even with what’s clearly a willingness to turn around bad policy at the top of some federal agencies, the political stalemate in Congress and the depleted coffers in statehouses don’t bode well for scaling up to do what’s required.

— Ben Brown

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