Journal Article
Hard Urbanism

The so-called ‘antagonism’ between the New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism movements is less critical for the practice and discipline of urban design than one might fear. This is not because urban design is not important—far from it—but because this ‘dispute’ elides critical issues in urbanism. These elisions actually have far more significance for the present and future of the field than does the current dispute, which after all is mostly rhetorical on the side of the New Urbanists (Duany and Talen 2013Duany, A., and E. Talen. 2013. Landscape Urbanism and its Discontents. Grenoble, Canada: New Society Publishers. [Google Scholar]). The following reflection will remark briefly upon two of these critical lacunae in current urban design theory and practice, and will attempt to clarify how and why both New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism might become more relevant design ideologies for cities and regions.

It is noteworthy that both New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism concentrate, primarily although not entirely, on suburban sites. This spatial focus is less because of any low-density ideology (New Urbanism in fact professes the opposite), than because both New and Landscape Urbanism are design ideologies derived from and for large single land parcels that are present mostly at urban peripheries. This profoundly limits the applicability of either ideology to land areas beyond the scale of a single site, and thus limits their applicability to shaping most of the land in cities and regions. New Urbanism would doubtless engage more in dense urban environments if more single sites were available there: the HOPE VI public housing design programme, constructed on single slum clearance sites, is proof of this. Landscape Urbanism, despite its low- (or no-) density ideology, is ironically more applicable to urban sites because post-industrial cities contain many large land parcels for which there is either no market demand or for which residential use is inappropriate: former factory sites and the like. However, these same locations are generally difficult to develop at the design specificity and formal quality required by canonical Landscape Urbanism, as has been noted elsewhere (Ryan 2012Ryan, B. D. 2012. Design After Decline. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.[Crossref][Google Scholar], 188–194).

An even more glaring lacuna in both New Urbanist and Landscape Urbanist ideologies is that both were developed and remain applicable primarily for wealthy, low-density countries with a strong rule of law and well-developed civil society. This ‘Americo-Commonwealth’ condition, which also includes Northern European nations such as Germany, simply does not apply in most of the world, nor in most of the places where urban growth is currently and will increasingly occur. Nations such as China, Nigeria and Indonesia not only lack the space to permit low- or no-density development in and around their city regions, but they possess different cultural norms that permit, and often require, much higher-density living than New Urbanists or Landscape Urbanists can stomach. Rule of law and civil society are often mostly absent in these latter countries as well. New Urbanism in countries such as China, in fact, is little more than a marketing mechanism for a few high-income developments. Landscape Urbanism is even less practical, because landscape design and landscape preservation require great state power and social commitment to withhold land from revenue-generating development, particularly when land values are high. Most nations outside of the Americo-Commonwealth world are hardly able to exert such control and even those that are, such as Singapore, require Corbusian towers to accommodate high populations, not the brick villages or ecological parks of New and Landscape Urbanism.

It seems little coincidence that Toronto, Canada, is a hotbed of both New and Landscape Urbanism. Canada’s strong commitment to public services, its settlement tradition shaped by limitless space, and its mix of British and American cultures all promote the creative, costly, heavily regulated and spatially generous development required for both New and Landscape Urbanism. But this same applicability should remind us that Canada is a remote exception in an increasingly urbanizing world. Let us not fool ourselves: urban design is a hard enterprise. Most of the built world is divided among multiple landowners, and much of it is governed by states and societies that lack the capacity, commitment and mutual trust of nations like Canada. This is not to say that stronger government structures are not evolving that will shape urban space ever more strongly in their turn. However, those new urban design realms will wrestle with the same multiplicity of property owners as the Global North, and these new realms are going to evolve in places that are very much denser, complex and plain different from the pastoral space that spawned New and Landscape Urbanism. In other words, urban design still awaits the ‘urbanisms’ that might shape the world that most of us actually live in.

Title
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsRyan BD
JournalJournal of Urban Design
Volume20
Issue3
Pagination321-322
Date Published05/2015
Abstract

The so-called ‘antagonism’ between the New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism movements is less critical for the practice and discipline of urban design than one might fear. This is not because urban design is not important—far from it—but because this ‘dispute’ elides critical issues in urbanism. These elisions actually have far more significance for the present and future of the field than does the current dispute, which after all is mostly rhetorical on the side of the New Urbanists (Duany and Talen 2013Duany, A., and E. Talen. 2013. Landscape Urbanism and its Discontents. Grenoble, Canada: New Society Publishers. [Google Scholar]). The following reflection will remark briefly upon two of these critical lacunae in current urban design theory and practice, and will attempt to clarify how and why both New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism might become more relevant design ideologies for cities and regions.

It is noteworthy that both New Urbanism and Landscape Urbanism concentrate, primarily although not entirely, on suburban sites. This spatial focus is less because of any low-density ideology (New Urbanism in fact professes the opposite), than because both New and Landscape Urbanism are design ideologies derived from and for large single land parcels that are present mostly at urban peripheries. This profoundly limits the applicability of either ideology to land areas beyond the scale of a single site, and thus limits their applicability to shaping most of the land in cities and regions. New Urbanism would doubtless engage more in dense urban environments if more single sites were available there: the HOPE VI public housing design programme, constructed on single slum clearance sites, is proof of this. Landscape Urbanism, despite its low- (or no-) density ideology, is ironically more applicable to urban sites because post-industrial cities contain many large land parcels for which there is either no market demand or for which residential use is inappropriate: former factory sites and the like. However, these same locations are generally difficult to develop at the design specificity and formal quality required by canonical Landscape Urbanism, as has been noted elsewhere (Ryan 2012Ryan, B. D. 2012. Design After Decline. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.[Crossref][Google Scholar], 188–194).

An even more glaring lacuna in both New Urbanist and Landscape Urbanist ideologies is that both were developed and remain applicable primarily for wealthy, low-density countries with a strong rule of law and well-developed civil society. This ‘Americo-Commonwealth’ condition, which also includes Northern European nations such as Germany, simply does not apply in most of the world, nor in most of the places where urban growth is currently and will increasingly occur. Nations such as China, Nigeria and Indonesia not only lack the space to permit low- or no-density development in and around their city regions, but they possess different cultural norms that permit, and often require, much higher-density living than New Urbanists or Landscape Urbanists can stomach. Rule of law and civil society are often mostly absent in these latter countries as well. New Urbanism in countries such as China, in fact, is little more than a marketing mechanism for a few high-income developments. Landscape Urbanism is even less practical, because landscape design and landscape preservation require great state power and social commitment to withhold land from revenue-generating development, particularly when land values are high. Most nations outside of the Americo-Commonwealth world are hardly able to exert such control and even those that are, such as Singapore, require Corbusian towers to accommodate high populations, not the brick villages or ecological parks of New and Landscape Urbanism.

It seems little coincidence that Toronto, Canada, is a hotbed of both New and Landscape Urbanism. Canada’s strong commitment to public services, its settlement tradition shaped by limitless space, and its mix of British and American cultures all promote the creative, costly, heavily regulated and spatially generous development required for both New and Landscape Urbanism. But this same applicability should remind us that Canada is a remote exception in an increasingly urbanizing world. Let us not fool ourselves: urban design is a hard enterprise. Most of the built world is divided among multiple landowners, and much of it is governed by states and societies that lack the capacity, commitment and mutual trust of nations like Canada. This is not to say that stronger government structures are not evolving that will shape urban space ever more strongly in their turn. However, those new urban design realms will wrestle with the same multiplicity of property owners as the Global North, and these new realms are going to evolve in places that are very much denser, complex and plain different from the pastoral space that spawned New and Landscape Urbanism. In other words, urban design still awaits the ‘urbanisms’ that might shape the world that most of us actually live in.

URLhttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13574809.2015.1031000