New Urbanism is a trend which began 25 years ago. New Urbanist developments feature houses with large front porches, garages in the back on allies (not facing the street), sidewalks, and modest backyards. Various building types are integrated into the neighborhood: apartments, condos and free-standing houses, workplaces, schools, post offices and stores. There is a defined neighborhood center which includes formal civic spaces and squares. It sounds like a too-good-to-be-true fantasy to me.
How can you tell if a neighborhood is truly an example of New Urbanism? See if it passes the "popsicle test." An 8-year-old should be able to safely bike from home to a store for a popsicle without risking life and limb on highway-sized streets with freeway-speed traffic. (This, to me, is unfathomable, but I do hope it really exists somewhere.)
Real neighborhoods with a true sense of community are few and far between these days. The problem is, most of us don't realize what we're missing, having never experienced it. I did experience it during my first 5 years of life- my fondest early memory is of the candy store on the corner which actually sold penny candy. By the time I was 5, my neighborhood had caught up with the rest of the country, and the little bakeries, shops and grocery stores had surrendered to the mega retailers.
What a loss. That's why I now crave urban living, in my case involving an actual downtown neighborhood as opposed to New Urbanism. I crave the option of walking rather than firing up the Honda. I want a sidewalk in front of my house, dammit.
Is New Urbanism a successful attempt to bring back the neighborhood of bygone years, or is it a contrived, forced imitation? I can't say, because I've never had the pleasure of actually seeing a New Urbanist example. I've seen half-assed versions, in which each condo features a front porch overlooking a sidewalk, but all the other elements, such as destinations to walk to on those pristine sidewalks, are noticeably absent.
As far as I know, New Urbanist neighborhoods exist in the suburbs. This makes sense, unfortunately, since the downtowns of many cities are in decay. In essense, a new (albeit fake) downtown has to be built within each New Urbanist development. I say, why not use the blighted urban downtowns which already exist, and try to create viable, vibrant neighborhoods there again?
So where do YOU live? Does your neighborhood pass the popsicle test?