The Ahwahnee Principles and New Urbanism

Urbanism means the lifestyle of city dwellers. New Urbanism, is a movement for urban planning and design that hopes to increase the sense of community within a any city dweller’s lifestyle.

The concern for the lack of sense of community started after World War II. Since the 1950s, the development of streetcar and affordable rapid transit has caused cities to spread out, which in turn creates “streetcar suburbs”. Later, during the automobile industry boom, cities became less centralized, causing societies to isolate themselves within urban sprawls.

Urban sprawls describe the expansion of communities away from central urban areas. This structure is both the creation and the promoter of heavy automobile usage.

To bring back more communal spaces, New Urbanism was slowly in development. There are a few main qualities that New Urbanism pushes for. According to the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), they are:

  1. The creation of more walkable, human-scaled neighborhoods.
  2. Bring destination within reach and allow for frequent encounters between citizens. A key measure is the accessibility of these spaces to people with a range of physical abilities and financial resources.
  3. Increasing the amount of shared spaces. E.g. plazas, park, squares, cafes, etc.
  4. Sustainability through Green Designs. This pushes the use of walking, bicycles, and transit use.
  5. Reuse and renew old, damaged regions. E.g. transforming a damaged housing area into habitable mixed-income neighborhoods

New Urbanism only became prominent after the establishment of The Ahwahnee Principles.

In 1991, Peter Katz, a staff-member of the Local Government Commision and author of The New Urbanism, brought together various architects to develop a set of rules to new urban spaces and communities. They met at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, and hence the name “The Ahwahnee Principles”. The group of architects was asked to find the common characteristics between various urban planning movements, namely, “Neotraditional Planning”, “Sustainable development”, “Transit-oriented Design”, “New Urbanism”, and “Livable” Communities.  Then, from the common set of community principles, they were asked to develop regional principles.

Here’s the official list of Community Principles, Regional Principles and Implementation Principles.

Many cities in the U.S has started to incorporate The Ahwahnee Principles in their urban planning. Most of these cities are on the east coast; cities like Pasedena, San Jose, Sacremento, Santabarbara, San Diego, and Walnut Creek. An example of a simple implementation some of these cities, is by building new shopping malls in near transit rather than off freeways.

Although New Urbanism seems like it is fostering better, more “liveable” spaces, there is also a criticism that argues against New Urbanism. Peter Gordon, a professor of Urban Planning from University of Southern California, spoke in favor of suburbanization because he thinks that New Urbanism ignores the consumer’s preference for the free market; people moved towards car-oriented development  that is what people want.

My presentation: