New Urbanism

There are many different kinds of dense and diverse town plan.

  • Traditional New Urbanism – the neighbourhood, town, and city
  • Neighbourhood
  • Town
  • City
  • How high?
  • Developers often want to wreck public spaces

Traditional New Urbanism – the neighbourhood, town, and city

New Urbanism is made up of 3 scales – neighbourhood of 2000 people, the town of 15,000 to 30,000 people, and city which is all the towns.


Neighbourhoods are the smallest scale and most intimate setting. 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 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 (400 m 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.

How high?

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. Many talk in ratios of the ground-floor commercial space and how many residential private floors above. So a 5 story with 1 floor of residential would be 4:1, the 8 storey total would be 7:1.

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.

As we will see on the following pages, there’s the Eco-city and Chinese Sky-City which want to go as high as possible, with the Sky City having 17,000 people in one building. I personally think that’s crazy, and it hasn’t been built yet. Let me know if it ever is!

Then you’ve got more romantically inspired back-to-the-land stuff like the EcoVillage or farm based Village Town. Nice ideas for some, but EcoVillages are often way out in the backwaters and therefore car dependent. Village Towns do not seem dense enough to me, and rely on an intense relationship with specific farmers or teachers or other roles in your Village – and do not seem as flexible should you need other options.

So which style do I prefer for Sydney and what is Sydney trying? Please read on!

Next page: Ecocity

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