New Urbanism is a school of urban design that arose in the early 1990s as a response to the dominant, sprawling land use trends that have dominated since World War II. New Urbanism, and the related "traditional neighborhood design", look to the built form that exists in downtown Ann Arbor and neighborhoods like the Old West Side and Old Fourth Ward as more desirable than the built form of the Briarwood or Arborland areas. The former are compact, walkable, and generally human-oriented; the latter are generic, sprawling, and nearly impossible to use without a car. New Urbanist planners and architects attempt to guide current development towards the older, pre-war styles.
General criteria of New Urbanist built form include:
- New urbanism has a higher density of uses (stores, housing units, etc) than contemporary design.
- New urbanism mixes uses together, placing housing on upper stories above retail uses, or including stores on residential blocks - Jefferson Market and Washtenaw Dairy are examples of the latter. The mix is not just between major types, but within types; different sizes and styles of housing will be interspersed, rather than every home on a block being identical.
- New urbanist areas have a high degree of connectedness. Cul-de-sacs limit access and maneuverability for all users, as do long, winding streets. A finely-grained network of streets, on a grid or close to it, ditributes trips efficiently, shortens travel distance (reducing total travel), and is intuitive to navigate.
- New urbanism is oriented towards pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit as much as towards cars. Sidewalks are a must, and the front door to a store or dwelling should face the sidewalk and be more prominent than the garage or parking lot.
A quick encapsulation of these elements is the "popsicle test": "an eight-year-old in the neighborhood should be able to bike to a store to buy a popsicle, without having to battle highway-sized streets and freeway-speed traffic." (http://www.cnu.org/about/_disp_faq.html)
The Walk Score walkability index is one measure of this quality, since it gives bonus points to housing that is close to a variety of services and businesses.
New Urbanism in Ann Arbor
New Urbanism is faddish enough that people will attempt to refer to it in erroneous or misleading ways, which leads to a misunderstanding of the concept. Huron Village, where Whole Foods is located, is the prime offender, and has led Ann Arborites to think that "New Urbanism" is merely a euphemism for "hard to find a parking space". A shopping center can no more be "New Urbanism" than can a single home - the term refers to a neighborhood or similar area.
Except in the case of a single developer creating a neighborhood from the ground up, New Urbanism requires facilitation at a higher scale - city-level planning, zoning, and public works must provide a framework that allows developers to fit their projects into a whole.