For Release Friday, December 14, 2012
The business of place-making – part science, part art – has had a long evolution, but American cities have never needed good urban design more urgently than at this moment. Changing demographics, energy savings and environmental concerns all mandate getting great urban neighborhoods just right.
The evolution of town planning in the New World arguably began with the Laws of the West Indies, the basic layout for settlement provided by the Spanish crown – essentially a grid, centered on a central square. With important figures from Raymond Unwin to Daniel Burnham to Ebenezer Howard, the art of town planning progressed up to World War II. Then it took a detour for urban renewal and got all but lost in the car-dependent, conventional suburban development of the past half-century.
Jane Jacobs’ seminal and pivotal 1961 work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, helped start a redirection. Her work underscored the importance of shorter blocks, diverse and human-scaled buildings and street-level activity. In recent decades concepts like Smart Growth, New Urbanism and transit-oriented development have dominated the planning profession, and not only for new development but for the continuing infill and reinvention of established urban areas, too many of which have been left in a state of neglect during the suburban era.