New Urbanism

There are many different styles of dense and diverse town plan, with their own flavours and benefits and shortcomings. On this page we will concentrate on New Urbanism.

  • Height and New Urbanism
  • The 3 scales
  • Neighbourhoods
  • Towns
  • Cities
  • Warning: driving to the town square ruins it!
  • The 1950’s super-highway scheme that went racist!
  • Developers often want to wreck public spaces

I defined New Urbansim on my REZONE page as:-

 “A town is centred on the Town Square (or Main Street), which is an attractive and culturally appropriate public space surrounded by shops and services and a cluster of 6 to 9 walking distance neighbourhoods.”

It’s time to unpack that a bit more.

Height and New Urbanism.

Some New Urbanist’s talk about a 4 storey limit as the most stairs people can reasonably be expected to walk up. The School of Life “How to build beautiful cities” video suggests 5 storeys, other studies have shown that greenhouse gas savings for density peak at 8 storeys high. When I spoke to Chip Kaufman of the Australian Council for New Urbanism, he laughed and said there was no height limit and they can cater for residential skyscrapers if necessary. I’m going to stick with the 5 story rule from the School of Life video, mainly because many New Urbanist’s look to Paris and other quaint European cities for their inspiration.

The 3 scales

New Urbanism is like a Mandelbrot that focusses on 3 scales: the neighbourhood, town, and city.


The Australian Council for New Urbanism charter describes neighbourhoods of about  2000 people (in a mix of terraced houses and eco-apartments) around a general store and daycare centre. Neighbours drop their kids at childcare and buy some milk. If they really get chatting with their local friends, they can buy a hamburger.

It should have a culturally appropriate design for that area. (As an Anglo-Australian for me that’s something like the Walhalla corner store.)

Wendy Morris from ACNU maps out the neighbourhood as:-




The ACNU’s Wendy Morris maps out true New Urban Towns as:-



The Australian Council for New Urbanism definition:-

  • a built environment which is diverse in use and population, scaled for the pedestrian, and capable of accommodating the automobile and public transport;
  • a structure based on walkable neighbourhoods (400m radius/five minute walk) focussed on fine-grained mixed-use town and neighbourhood centres with a variety of higher density housing in close proximity;
  • a well-defined and high quality public realm which is responsive to site features and ecology, and supported by a distinctive architecture reflecting the climate and culture of the region;
  • a highly-interconnected street network, with traffic management to support pedestrians, cyclists and transit-users.
  • From the ACNU New Urbanist PDF


Many towns make a city. The Towns described above are where many people could work, rest and play. Paris, some areas of London and Manhattan have examples of various kinds of walkable urbanism in different cultural contexts.

Warning: driving to the town square ruins it!

The town square becomes impossible when building codes demand that every single building have a certain ratio of ‘free’ parking – which works out to be very expensive parking indeed. When we demand to drive to the town square, the town square disappears in a sea of carparks, as Vox news explains.

(The only future hope to build an authentic town square in suburban sprawl comes in the form of robot-taxis which can drop passengers down and go off to serve other passengers. We would miss the benefits of the walk home. But robot-taxis might enable a transition to New Urban forms as the old housing stock gradually dies naturally from attrition.)

The 1950’s super-highway scheme that went racist!

Indeed, it gets worse. There where some racist ‘Urban Renewal’ projects aimed at driving super-highways though communities of colour. When GM and other car companies formed the National Highway User’s Conference, they convinced the American President to sign in the highway bill which gave highways about 90% Federal funding. The highways cut cities in half, back when they were ignorant of the benefits of walkable communities. The ‘Urban Renewal’ scheme maliciously tore down vital densely populated urban centres simply because they were black neighbourhoods! Suburbia was born in ignorance, grew on car corporation pork-barrelling, and maliciously tore down the old urban competition to itself in large part due to prejudice and racism!


In case you’re thoroughly depressed after that, now it’s time to cover something positive.

Developers often want to wreck public spaces

New York city designer Amanda Burden explains the war between our rights as citizens for public spaces of beauty and comfort, and the constant battle of developers to commercialise the space.


Other New Urban pages:-

Benefits of New Urbanism

More details on New Urbanism, further defining the neighbourhood, town, city, and showing how driving to the town square ruins it, the historical legacy of racist highway development, and how developers want to ruin public spaces.

The Eco-city, bunched in more and covered in trees and bushes.

The Sky-City, 17,000 people in one building!

The Eco-Village: the opposite of the above!

Village towns: incorporating agriculture

Which style for Sydney?

Rail: is so much better than cars

How to get there, given we’ve already spend so much on suburbia?

Objections to New Urbanism:

  1. That’s so typical of Nazi Greenie Control Freaks telling us how to live!
  2. It’s just lefty propaganda — suburbia is the American way
  3. Cities are ugly!
  4. What do we do with the vast suburban areas we’ve already built?
  5. How do we pay for all this?

Energy efficient homes

Tall timbers: modern CLT lets us build skyscrapers out of wood!

Fast homes: Don’t eco-apartments take a year or so to build, and cities take decades?

  • Assembly line homes
  • Cities transformed in 20 years

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