Linking the New Economy to the Livable Community (1998)
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Where's the economy?
The Ahwahnee Principles, developed at the annual Ahwahnee
Conference of the Local Government Commission in 1991, helped
launch an influential movement against conventional urban and
suburban development as it has been practiced in the United States
since the 1940s.
Underlying this statement of "New Urbanist" ideals is the belief that
the physical design of communities and regions is seriously impairing
quality of life—contributing to traffic congestion, environmental
degradation, and lost sense of community. With its core principles of
walkable neighborhoods, orientation to public transit, and integration
of housing, shops, civic facilities, and work places, New Urbanism
and the associated Livable Communities Movement have gained
considerable acceptance in the last few years.
The movement, however, is not without its shortcomings. To broaden
its appeal and test its relevance, the Livable Communities Movement
must address at least two sets of concerns. One set of concerns
focuses on the extent to which New Urbanist principles fit with the
realities of the modern workplace. A second, related set focuses on
moving beyond the neighborhood to create a compelling vision of
metropolitan growth, integrating the various elements of a region.
Discussion of the economy has been largely absent from discussions
about New Urbanism and Livable Communities. The much-heralded
examples of New Urbanism—Celebration, Seaside, Kentlands—make
little mention of where and how residents would earn their living. An
outsider's impression of these new communities could easily be that
they are so attractive precisely because no one seems to need to work!
Apparently, residents who are employed must be employed in the
region surrounding the new community or by the few retail businesses
and civic institutions in each community's center.
Where people have discussed the economy in Livable Community
circles, they have done so in terms of retail, restaurants, and other
local-serving small businesses that make up the neighborhood
centers. Or, discussion about the economy has associated business
interests with those of "the developers" and "the building industry."
Consideration of the wealth-creating economic drivers of the Livable
Community, and the important context they provide, has been absent.
New Urbanism offers a range of strategies for encouraging pedestrian
shopping, but has had a hard time providing opportunities for
local employment or articulating the connection to employment
in the region.
The Ahwahnee Principles do include "Regional Principles." Yet the
New Urbanist thinkers who have focused on the region look at it
from a physical design perspective. They apply neighborhood design
principles to the region and make recommendations about the location
of transportation networks greenspace, and regional institutions
and services. But they have not yet considered whether or how these
principles and recommendations might make sense in a world increasingly
organized along economic regions.