Jeff Speck on why people hate the New Urbanism

The Evolving Debate Over Smart Growth – Urban Development, Planning, Design – Architect Magazine

And here I was thinking people hate New Urbanists because they write stuff like this, and I don’t know, maybe some of us get tired of having smugness dripped all over us.

No, Mr. Speck, nobody actually hates you or the New Urbanism. People hate Hitler and Jar Jar Binks. But we can talk about why people might find all this really annoying:

a) the fact the Speck lives in a modernist house but prescribes a way of living in cities that suggests you’re a vacuous, planet-killing consumer drone if you live in a house. Slaps forehead!

b) the New Urbanism hasn’t created “better-looking sprawl”; it’s created “different-looking, yet still remarkably unattractive sprawl.” I read here that it’s the fault of those stylistically conservative markets, not the architects who are too craven or talentless to supply something original when confronted with easy fees.

c) the way that he implies, in the very best practice of civil society, that people who don’t slavishly believe what he does are merely “haters” with an “utterly unproductive” agenda* instead of people with questions, different priorities, doubts, and concerns; and

e) the vainglorious framing of the New Urbanists as warriors engaged in some sort of “fight” when in actuality it’s the dominant paradigm in planning and environmentalism, they own the White House and just about every urban appointee in it, every mayor of every major metro in the US no matter whether Republican or Democrat, have the developers in love with the ideas (density! Woo! And I get a bonus?!), command sizable fees to write reality-defying plans which promise stuff like “putting the theater next to florist shop and cafe will stop global warming and resurrect your dead grandma.” Now, maybe all this dominance is because their ideas are so swell, or maybe it’s because they’re brilliant marketers, but does that sound like the last fight you were in? I’m clearly not doing this “fighting” thing right.

*Of course I could be one of those stealth auto lovers who aren’t for him, so in the very best reasoning that involves the incapacity to hold two ideas in one’s head at the same time, I must be an enemy in the colossal fight. Maybe Spike TV will feature us on “Deadliest Warrior: New Urbanist vs. Social Scientist: who’s the deadliest warrior?! One has regressions and data; the other has colored pencils and crowds of adoring fans. Who will win this epic battle?” I know whom my students prefer.

I would feel better about the sustainable city of the future if the supposedly evolving debate around it didn’t strike me as being about a largely symbolic dustup between oligarchs over economic rents: car companies versus the professional development army of the Smart Growth machine–all of whom want your money and cover their prodo with greenwash in order to get it. What’s Good for the New Urbanism is Good for America!