New urbanism

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New urbanism is a school of thought that argues for conceptual integration of society and approaches from social sciences and humanities into urban planning. New Urbanism is an urban design movement which promotes walkable neighborhoods containing a range of housing and job types. It arose in the United States in the early 1980s, and has gradually informed many aspects of real estate development, urban planning, and municipal land-use strategies. Specifically, after World War II urban planning largely centered around the use of municipal zoning ordinances to segregate residential from commercial and industrial development, and focused on the construction of low density single family detached houses as the preferred housing option for the growing middle class. The physical separation of where people lived from where they worked, shopped and frequently spend their recreational time, together with low housing density, which often drastically reduced population density relative to historical norms, made automobiles indispensable for efficient transportation and contributed to the emergence of a culture of automobile dependency.

Within the New Urbanism ten design principles are of interest:

  1. Pedestrian centered design;
  2. Connection between streets;
  3. Mixed-use of domestic, work and leisure functions;
  4. Mixed housing types: different types and price ranges, mixed owner-occupied and rental housing;
  5. Quality of architecture and urban planning: the 'feel at home' principal;
  6. De scale of traditional village, with a central square and on to the edges more homes and all reachable in a 10-minute walk;
  7. High density of buildings: This means that the buildings closer together, and thus the contact between the residents and workers in the buildings is promoted;
  8. Smart transportation, i.e. public transport;
  9. Sustainability
  10. Quality of life, actually a summary of the previous points.


New urbanism[1] is the main frame of reference for

  • Addressing social and culture aspects in urban planning;
  • The conceptual integration of society into urbanity; and
  • Linking approaches from urban planning as well as social sciences and humanities.

New Urbanism sets out to overcome the zoning of certain functional areas (typical of the industrial age) that separate residential from economy and other use. Nowadays, planning should aim at a mix of residential and economy-related functions and eliminate regional sprawl, because

  • Urban structure has an impact on social processes;
  • Urban space and society interact, and “social space operates as both a product and a producer of changes in the metropolitan environment[2] (sociospatial perspective).

Security related aspects and benefits

Security aspects obviously have an influence on how built environment is changed and developed. Conversely, the way in which built environment is changed and developed influences the security of infrastructures, and of society as a whole:

  • Design can impact (anti-social/criminal) behaviour in a positive or negative way;
  • Design can impact social behaviour and reactions to threats and risks.

Mind that social behaviour cannot be solely directed by design – it depends on socio-cultural roots, security/risk culture, perceptions etc.

Approaches how to address it

  • Consider social needs;
  • Consider interactions of society with urban space;
  • Involve citizens in planning projects (citizen participation);
  • Integrate society into urban planning and into urbanity;
  • Integrate approaches and findings from social sciences and humanities.

Related aspects


However, the conceptual integration of society into urbanity does not always well reflect the new levels of social density that will be reached and that may change urban cultures. New urbanism does not

  • Respect the foundations for the perception of insecurity and fear by the citizens.
  • It follows some sort of physical determinism: Social behaviour cannot be directed by physical design: “Residents of communities do not behave in certain ways simply because well-known architects direct them to do so.[3]

Footnotes and references

  1. E.g. Calthorpe P., Fulton W.: The Regional City: Planning for the End of the Sprawl. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2001.
  2. Gottdiener M., Hutchison R.: The New Urban Sociology. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview,2011. 394.
  3. Gottdiener M., Hutchison R.: The New Urban Sociology. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2011. 331.