Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Ruralism

From time to time I'll be posting guest blogs by Land Use Clinic students related to their clinic projects.  Today's blog is by Emily Stratton, who is a second year law student here at UGA.

    The New Urbanist movement is now fully entrenched in the American landscape.  There are communities all over the country dedicated to reincarnating the feel of a traditional neighborhood with mixed-used development, transit-served town centers and pedestrian-oriented infrastructure.  However, New Urbanist developments typically require, well, some urbanism.   This poses a problem in communities that lie on the edge of metropolitan boundaries, in rural towns where farmland still prevails over parking lots, and greenspace is not a luxury but a necessity.  These rural lands are most at risk for the type of suburban sprawl that New Urbanism was meant to combat, but they don’t have the density required for a large, mixed-use development.
    A new term has been bandied about for the past few years that may be a viable alternative for these rural communities:  New Ruralism, a term I use with hesitation. The basic idea behind the movement is to combine sustainable agricultural with the principles of smart growth, forging an integral connection with the land.  It’s about incorporating farmland into urban planning, preserving rural life, and concentrating growth in designated areas.  You should be able to look out the north window of your house and see a vibrant town center, while out the south window are crops that don’t require chemicals and extensive watering to survive.  Homes are within walking-distance of retail shops and offices, but the paths connecting the two cut through natural landscapes and fields rather than manicured parks or neighborhoods.     
    I use the term “New Ruralism” with trepidation because it has developed starkly different meanings.   Several communities have taken possession of the label without embracing its underlying humbleness; the movement is supposed to be about rebuilding a relationship with the earth.  These communities instead cash in on the current “green” trend by emphasizing an eco-friendliness that includes luxury homes on secluded lots that are connected with roads meant to be driven, not walked.  There is no attempt to create a direct link between people and their food sources, whether through organic community gardens or personal vegetable plots, and modern amenities reign supreme over sustainable living.  The land becomes an accessory, rather than a valued asset to be protected.  Call it what you, there is something to be said for bringing back traditions that built this country:  embracing the land as a friend to be treasured, the source of life for us all, while encouraging healthy growth and development.  And, rather than being a flash-in-the-pan idea, with Andres Duany’s recent seal of approval and promulgation of Agricultural Urbanism, the movement looks like it’s here to stay.

More student posts to follow...along, apparently, with news from the amusement park convention in Las Vegas.  My fellow editors have such interesting hobbies!

UPDATE: Per Matt Festa's comment, there has indeed been some controversy over New Urbanist development in Athens' greenbelt.  A development known as Oak Grove was originally approved as a mixed-use residential/commercial development.  However, as with many New Urbanist projects the retail has been slow in coming.  Also, many Athens residents and leaders were and are critical of this development as being uncontinguous with other residential development and "too far out" in the greenbelt.  The latest issue is over a request to amend the plan for the development to include strip-style commercial development, rather than the mixed-use style originally planned.

Jamie Baker Roskie


Community Design, Density, Development, New Urbanism, Planning, Smart Growth | Permalink

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Interesting project, Emily. I remember when I was at UGA three years ago there seemed to be a number of new projects in Athens that were sort of trying to do new urbanism but they were either out in a greenfield or otherwise not really suited for mixed use; maybe "new ruralism" is a more sensible approach in places like that.

I did a post on Oct. 31 about Duany's lecture on agricultural urbanism; at the Houston Tomorrow summary of the event, you can scroll down and get the audio of the lecture plus Duany's powerpoints. http://www.houstontomorrow.org/initiatives/story/agricultural-urbanism/?utm_source=Houston+Tomorrow+Growth+News&utm_campaign=449dcbd6b1-Houston_Tomorrow_Livability_News_110909&utm_medium=email.

Posted by: Matt Festa | Nov 18, 2009 8:06:41 AM