The American Dream Reborn
December 17, 1995
From Reporter Fred Wayne
SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) --
The Kaplan family members are living their version of the American dream. They found it at Laguna West, south of Sacramento, California.
“In terms of the neighborliness and the sense of community, I feel it a lot more here than where I was living previously,” said Amy Kaplan.
Laguna West is not the typical suburban housing development. It was designed to recreate the classic American town. The community has its own village green, day care center, parks and town hall. An elementary school and retail shops are also planned.
Chief designer Peter Calthorpe says the idea behind the movement called “new urbanism” is to make life in the future better by learning lessons from the past.
“When you boil it all down, (new urbanism) is trying to create a stronger sense of community across a range of people,” said Calthorpe. In order to do that, the urban designer said the human scale has to be brought back, by getting people out of their cars and into common spaces.
In the new urbanism model, streets are designed to interconnect residential areas with parks, schools and commercial centers. Urban designers say that encourages people to walk.
Another feature of new urbanism is architecture. “We took a radical approach, which was to say let’s not let the automobile dominate the neighborhood anymore,” said Calthorpe. “We wrote guidelines that said let’s put the garage behind the house and bring the front porch back to the house.”
One of the most important tenets of the new urbanist credo is that communities be located close to major places of employment.
These communities require the cooperation of local government. Zoning codes must be changed to allow mixed uses and also denser development.
For all its apparent virtues, the new urbanism approach has its critics.
“The whole large scale claims they are making about really offering a community using a small town as a model are unrealistic in today’s world,” said architectural historian Margaret Crawford. “They really appeal to a kind of Disneyland-esque nostalgia.”
Developments employing new urbanist concepts are scattered across the country, in places like Seaside, Florida, and Kentlands, Maryland.
Critics charge that most Americans won’t buy into the notion of going back to the future in living styles.
But the new urbanists say their ideas will help restore a feeling of community that many Americans are looking for.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.