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CCRL California Center for Regional Leadership
Connecting California's Regions to the State and Each Other

200 Pine St., Ste. 400
San Francisco, CA 94104
Phone (415) 445-8975
Fax (415) 445-8974


Linking the New Economy to the Livable Community (1998)

View full report (PDF, 418 KB, 31 pages)


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.