In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section New Urbanism: Expansion of a Principle-Based Planning Movement

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews—Academic Perspectives
  • General Overviews—Practitioner Perspectives
  • Journals
  • Websites
  • Origins and Aims of New Urbanism
  • A Principle-Based Movement
  • Testing the Claims of New Urbanism
  • The Geographies of New Urbanism in North America
  • “Worlding” of the Movement
  • Broader Critiques of New Urbanism
  • De-universalization of New Urbanism

Geography New Urbanism: Expansion of a Principle-Based Planning Movement
Dan Trudeau, Susan Moore
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0197


New Urbanism is a contemporary urban planning and design movement that aims to change the ways in which urban development takes shape. Originating as a critique of suburban sprawl in the United States during the 1980s, the movement advocates development that produces mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. While US-style suburban sprawl serves as a visible target, the planners, architects, and urban designers who champion New Urbanism see it as a counter-movement to the Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM) whose rational functionalist principles of urban design generated the automobile-oriented, single-use, and socially segregated landscape of postwar suburbia in the United States. Proponents thus organized the New Urbanism movement in order to displace CIAM. As such, New Urbanism offers a set of normative design principles that stipulate how development should look and function at multiple scales, from the block to the district and city-region. This strategy is at the intellectual heart of the New Urbanism movement. The main advocacy apparatus of the movement, the Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU), has proceeded with framing this strategy as a relevant response to a variety of problems associated with ongoing urbanization, including environmental degradation, concentrated poverty, disaster resilience, suburban decline, and sustainability. Such adaptability of the movement has led to its adoption in development efforts in over thirty countries on six continents. As it has spread, both globally and to different development contexts within metropolitan areas of a single country, it has diversified such that there are now multiple New Urbanisms. The rising influence of the movement has also attracted academic critique. Much of the work in this vein has been quite critical of the movement, though there is debate about its impact. To this end, there are many efforts to test the claims of New Urbanism, which speak to our evolving and multifaceted understanding of its influence in the wider world.

General Overviews—Academic Perspectives

The literature on New Urbanism has emerged from a diverse array of vantage points, both within and outside of academia. As a subject of academic inquiry, New Urbanism has been examined from a number of disciplinary and applied disciplines, each of which consider different facets of the movement, though tend to offer critical perspectives. From a planning studies perspective, Grant 2006 examines the origins and global spread of New Urbanism, providing one of the few existing attempts at a comprehensive examination of the movement. From a similar perspective, Talen 2005 chronicles the problematic way in which New Urbanism ideology interfaces with paradigms of modernist planning practice that have been entrenched for decades in North America. McCann 2009 provides another overview of the movement’s emergence and resulting impact. There are three special issues of academic journals that focus on New Urbanism, each of which provides helpful overviews to New Urbanism at different moments in time. Harvey 1997 collects a number of criticisms of the movement’s intellectual foundations and provides a constructive yet skeptical orientation to the movement’s aims. In this collection Harvey 1997 gives an especially insightful appraisal of New Urbanism’s intellectual heritage and what one can expect from the movement. Falconer Al-Hindi and Till 2001 is an edited issue in Urban Geography that provides a mix of skeptical and appreciative perspectives on the movement’s aims and different aspects of how it has been implemented in North America. Marshall 2003 offers similar perspectives in an edited issue of Built Environment, in which Hebbert 2003 provides a particularly helpful contextualization of New Urbanism. Outside of these collections, Brain 2005 offers a sympathetic critique of the movement’s aims and impact. The movement’s ideological underpinnings are discussed in Beauregard 2002, which adds to the appreciation of New Urbanism’s intellectual heritage and how that articulates with the movement’s avowed aims.

  • Beauregard, Robert. “New Urbanism: Ambiguous Certainties.” Journal of Architectural and Planning Research 19.3 (2002): 181–194.

    Article reviews the basic principles of New Urbanism from its roots to its implementation in a critical manner. The author argues that the design principles and implementation processes of New Urbanism are in some cases contradictory to the broader concepts and ideologies of the movement. By contrasting New Urbanism to modernism and postmodernism, the author concludes that New Urbanism has not completely detached itself from, nor avoided completely, either movement.

  • Brain, David. “From Good Neighborhoods to Sustainable Cities: Social Science and the Social Agenda of the New Urbanism.” International Regional Science Review 28.2 (2005): 217–238.

    DOI: 10.1177/0160017605275161

    Article offers an instructive introduction to New Urbanism and its social agenda and follows a range of applications in planning and design practice. Author contends that research has revolved around testing the movement’s claims rather than examining the movement’s effects through questions grounded in sociological theory. Posits that studying New Urbanism in practice affords the opportunity to research the politics of place making. A great starting place for beginners.

  • Falconer Al-Hindi, Karen, and Karen Till. “(Re)Placing the New Urbanism Debates: Toward an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda.” Urban Geography 22.3 (2001): 189–201.

    DOI: 10.2747/0272-3638.22.3.189

    Article introduces a special issue on New Urbanism. It begins with a timeline and the movement’s roots followed by a brief overview of the multifaceted literature on New Urbanism. The authors advance an interdisciplinary framework for studying New Urbanism beyond its claims, which they argue is required in order to apprehend its use and impact with regard to environmental, social, and economic concerns.

  • Grant, Jill. Planning the Good Community: New Urbanism in Planning and Practice. London: Routledge, 2006.

    Book provides a comprehensive overview of the movement, discussing its origins and spread globally. The discussion places special attention on situating New Urbanism within a broader context of planning theory and examines the gaps in theory and practice of New Urbanism. A helpful introduction to the movement, suitable for undergraduates.

  • Harvey, David. “The New Urbanism and the Communitarian Trap.” Harvard Design Magazine 1 (Winter/Spring 1997): 1–3.

    The article praises New Urbanism’s “organic” and “holistic” vision to generate a sense of place that American cities have lost through postwar modernist design, but criticizes the movement’s generalization of what society ought to become, its capacity to respond to crises, and the assumptions that design is able to solve socioeconomic and political issues and that “community” is a universally inclusive notion.

  • Hebbert, Michael. “New Urbanism—The Movement in Context.” Built Environment 29.3 (2003): 193–209.

    DOI: 10.2148/benv.

    This article explores New Urbanism through three perspectives: (1) analysis of the Charter for New Urbanism that positions the movement within several policy alternatives to sustainable development; (2) comparison of New Urbanism with earlier urban strategies that have shaped modern town planning; and (3) evaluation of the effectiveness of the movement to alter the trajectory of urban sprawl. Article provides a helpful orientation to conceptualizing the movement.

  • Marshall, Stephen. “New Urbanism: An Introduction.” Built Environment 29.3 (2003): 188–192.

    DOI: 10.2148/benv.

    Introduces a special issue of Built Environment by placing the emergence of New Urbanism within broader developments in planning theory. Focuses on how New Urbanism, as a principle-based movement, departs from many trends in planning, yet is comparable to its foil, Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM).

  • McCann, Eugene. “New Urbanism.” In International Encyclopedia of Human Geography: People, the Earth, Environment, and Technology. Edited by Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift, 438–443. Boston: Elsevier, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1016/B978-008044910-4.01067-1

    Brief essay that provides a helpful introduction to New Urbanism, covering its origins, including its key theoretical influences, and the geographical mechanisms of how the movement’s influence spreads. Frames New Urbanism as a type of religious movement that provides a compelling analysis of how charismatic individuals lead a larger cadre of devotees who help link the movement to new development around the world.

  • “New Urbanism: Urban or Suburban? A Roundtable Discussion.” Harvard Design Magazine 1 (Winter/Spring 1997): 46–63.

    A critical discussion between practicing architects and planners and architectural critics regarding New Urbanism’s aspirations and how it is actually implemented at the dawn of the movement. The article is a transcript of the discussion between these individuals with invited commentary from figures in Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Considers diverse viewpoints about the extent to which New Urbanism offers a departure from the conventional suburban development.

  • Talen, Emily. New Urbanism and American Planning: The Conflict of Cultures. New York: Routledge, 2005.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203799482

    Book presents an historical review of four currents of thought in urban planning in the United States and discusses how New Urbanism articulates with each of these: incrementalism, plan-making, planned communities, and regionalism. Frames New Urbanism as facing opportunities to build on the successes of each approach and overcome the tensions that exist between these. A suitable resource for more advanced students who are familiar with urban planning history.

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