New Urbanism is first and foremost an urban design movement – meaning it is a style (a way of thinking) or prevailing inclination in urban design that upholds a rigid ideal or philosophy and is promoted and followed or practised by specific individuals and/or groups.
At the end of World War II, urban planning mostly centred around the use of municipal zoning to isolate residential from commercial and industrial expansion; focused on the production of low-density single-family detached dwellings as the favoured housing model for the emergent middle class. The physical parting of where people live, work, shop and spend leisure time, together with low housing density made vehicles indispensable for everyday transportation and aided hugely to the rise of a culture of vehicular dependency.
New Urbanism originated in the early 1980’s as a way of alternative thinking for future urban planning, architecture and movement (of all modes) by reinvesting in design, community and place. New Urbanism fought predominant development patterns which fixated more on building dispersed housing far from traditional city centres and key roads as well as outdated urban renewal tactics that ruined the fabric of historic neighbourhoods and secluded once-stable communities. These outdated ways of development are collectively known as “city ‘sprawling'”.
New Urbanism is intensely influenced by urban design principles and practices such as the environmental movement, TOD (transit-oriented development) and TND (traditional neighbourhood design). These notions can be bound into two concepts: building a sense of community and the progress of ecological practices.
Since its inception, New Urbanism has influenced many characteristics of urban planning, municipal land-use schemes and real-estate development. The movement has altered the conversation, from debating the alternative forms of development to discussing how best to preserve, develop, reinstate and design our neighbourhoods, cities and regions. New Urbanism is also regarded as the primary catalyst to, now common, updated (modern) development approaches and configurations, including, mixed-use developments; TND; TOD; affordable housing integrated with design standards; the expansion and design of complete and attractive streets.
New Urbanism’s ideals can be set in central principles or characteristics in order to identify the movement and way of thinking. Some of these characteristics are:
The neighbourhood has a noticeable centre. This is often a square of grass or vegetation and sometimes an eventful or notable street corner. A transport stop (bus/train/metro/tramways) would be situated at this centre.
Most of the residences are within a five-minute stroll of the centre, an average of approximately four-hundred meters (400 m).
There are a diversity of residential types so that young and old, singles and families, the poor and affluent may find dwellings to live in.
At the brink of the neighbourhood there are workplaces and shops of adequately varied sorts to source the weekly essentials of a household.
An elementary school is near enough so that most children can walk from their home.
There are lesser playgrounds available to every residence – not more than 150m away.
Streets within the neighbourhood form a linked network, which dissolves traffic by offering a selection of pedestrian and vehicular routes to any destination.
The streets are fairly narrow and sheltered with rows of trees. This reduces traffic, creating an appropriate atmosphere for bicycles and pedestrians.
Certain prominent sites at the termination of street vistas or in the neighbourhood centre are reserved for civic buildings. These provide sites for community meetings, education, and religious or cultural activities.
New Urbanism also has fundamental approaches with guidelines, as phrased by “The Philosophies/Principles of Intelligent Urbanism” (PIU) prepared by Prof. Christopher Charles Benninger. The PIU is a philosophy of urban development poised of a set of ten (10) ‘laws’ intended to guide the preparation of city plans and urban design. These guidelines/’laws’ intend to reunite and incorporate various urban development and management concerns.
According to Prof. C.C. Benninger, some of these ‘laws’ are:
A balance with nature
Once a point of no return is reached, anthropogenic use of natural assets will outdo the natural capability of the ecosystem to regenerate. This value encourages environmental valuations to recognize delicate zones, helpless habitats and bionetworks that are able to be improved through protection, density regulation, land-use development and open-space design.
A balance with tradition
This urban planning value stresses respect for the traditional and historical heritage and ethics of a place. Development resolutions must function within the stability of tradition (supporting, shielding and stabilising generic works and fundamentals of the urban outline) while concerning the cultural and social badge of regions, distinctive local knowledge, their signs and symbols that are articulated through art, urban space and architecture.
Exciting societies are communal, publicly engaging and offer their inhabitants plentiful opportunities for congregation and meeting one another, which are space specific – therefore it is achieved through design. The hierarchies can be theorised as an organism of social layers, with each layer having a matching physical place in the settlement structure. This consist of a place for individuals, for friendships, for householders, for the neighbourhood, for societies, and for the city territory.
A key concern of this value is transportation. While understanding and recognising the suitability of personal vehicles, it tries to put expenditures (such as energy consumption, large paved areas, parking, accidents and pollution) on the users of private vehicles. Respectable city planning values encourage alternate modes of public transport, other than a dependence on personal vehicles.
The human scale value is in support of eliminating artificial obstacles and endorses face-to-face contact, providing sociable places, pedestrian paths and community areas where people can socialise. These can be parks, gardens, arcades, courtyards, street cafés as well as a selection of inside-outside spaces.
This value visualises the urban fabric as a vehicle for social, personal and economic development, by means of interaction with a range of services, facilities, establishments and information offering a selection of opportunities for greater education, economic engagement, employment, and recreation. This value proposes to intensify contact with housing, health care and human resources progression, as well as an increase in hygienic and safety conditions.
This value agrees to the vehicle system, yet believes that it should not be made necessary by design. A well designed city (based off of this value) would be concentrated and condensed beside (near at the very least) mass transportation passageways. This concentration should also be nearby key urban centres (hubs) that perform as unrestricted access and urban hospitality to urban niceties and services. Consequently, if the movement of all passageways are stable and in equilibrium the urban, social and economic infrastructures will, correspondingly, be strengthened.
This value lays prominence on the notion that solid integrity are only able to be achieved through (accountable, clear, competent and involved) local governance, founded on public accountabilities, obligations, applicable directories and due privileges.
The aforementioned are the prominent characteristics and values of the New Urbanism movement – which should be sufficient to draw solid arguments and a final conclusion.
Thesen Island was named in 1923 after Charles Wilhelm Thesen who established a timber processing plant on the island back in 1922. Thesen was the son of Arndt Leonard Thesen, a timber merchant, who left his home in Norway in 1869 with his family to begin a new life in New Zealand; however, their ship ran into difficulties near Cape Town (South Africa) which lead the family to stay for good. Barloworld (then Barlows) – then and still one of South Africa’s leading mining, production and distribution companies – bough the island and its timber treatment plant from Thesen and Co. in the late 1980’s. Soon after, Barlows realised that the timber processing undertakings could not continue in the heart of such an eco-sensitive and scenic lagoon. Simultaneously, an ever-growing community concern was noted regarding the industrial and environmental pollution caused by the factory’s undertakings.
For approximately eight (8) years the uninhibited buildings, waste dumps and machinery became a health hazard and a monstrosity to the local community. A South African environmental designer and environmental engineer, Dr. Chris Mulder, had a new outlook for the derelict island – to turn it into a distinctive residential marina. The planning of the “new” Thesen Island called for extremely careful and sensitive development schemes – due to the Knysna River estuary being one of South Africa’s most sensitive ecosystems as well as a tourist attraction.
The planning process included specific focus on ecological, aesthetic, engineering, cultural, social and architectural related concerns. In 2001, ten (10) years passed since the initial dream was conceived to achieve a final approval.
Within Thesen Island, the neighbourhood has no noticeable centre. Although the ratio between residential, commercial and retail may be acceptable, the residential areas do seem overpowering due to the fact that the commercial and retail areas are not centralised on the island but rather to one side – resulting in the island having a lopsided appear.
The furthest residential dwelling (home) is approximately one-thousand three-hundred meters (1300 m) from “Harbour Town” (commercial, retail and public accommodation – commercial town “centre” marked on Figure 4 in grey as “public vehicle access”). This would result in an approximate 15-20 minute walk. From “Harbour Town”, it is a further one-thousand three-hundred meters (1100 m) to the nearest petrol station (Caltex), “food lover’s market” (Fruit ‘n Veg) and super market (Pick ‘n Pay / Checkers) – all of which are in town (in Knysna, off Thesen Island).
The distance, for the furthest resident on Thesen Island, that one has to travel to the super market would result in two-thousand six-hundred meters (2400 m). The island boasts a respectable diverse society ranging from elderly (retired) folks to young families to holiday goers. However, Thesen Island residential homes were not intended to act as social housing, hence lower income individuals, families and pensioners would not be able to live on the island as it is too “upper class” – for a lack of a better suiting phrase. This makes the island exclusive and does have benefits like security for example. Yet there are social hierarchical issues it does not solve as they are not addressed.
The nearest primary school (Knysna Primary School) and high school (Knysna High) is nine-hundred meters (900 m) and one-thousand five-hundred meters (1500 m), respectively, away from “Harbour Town”. The schools are all located in town (off Thesen Island).
The neighbourhood has an abundance of grassed areas for children to play, dogs to walk and residents to enjoy picnics. These grassed patches can be located near each dwelling as well as some public accommodation areas. “Harbour Town”, the apartment areas as well as public accommodation areas are all well connected with linking streets that are pedestrian friendly. The gated/private residential houses (as indicated in Figure 4 – large yellow area) are leaning towards urban sprawling with cul-de-sacs ending the street. These cul-de-sacs are not well linked which would lead to congested traffic in some circumstances; however due to Thesen Islands small population traffic is not congested and hardily a serious issue.
All streets on Thesen Island are narrow as well as paved with brick pavers. This not only slows down vehicular speed but also promotes pedestrian movement – handing over the hierarchy to pedestrians and cyclists. The main (and only) access road into Thesen Island has a very well defined termination point in the form of a mini-waterfront with local restaurants, retailers and businesses. In the neighbourhood, however, streets end in cul-de-sacs (that does not necessarily promote social interactions) that decreases access to and from “Harbour Town” – less routes lengthens streets and consequently motivates driving and demotivates the notion of walking – driving is anti-social.
The gated/private neighbourhood also does not have many community gathering points with restaurants, civic, commercial (including entertainment) or retail buildings apart from the recreational activities area (as indicated in Figure 4). This leads to an unsociable community where everyone uses vehicular transportation to do their weekly shopping instead of walking to a super market within a five minute stroll. It can be assumed that the gated/private neighbourhood is gated for security reasons.
Thesen Island has recognised the unique biodiversity of the eco-sensitive and scenic lagoon and has acted on regenerating this delicate zone and related bionetworks through protection (establishing a “no-go” area where development is not allowed – as indicated in Figure 4), density regulation and open-space areas.