The initial response to the word “urban” is usually negative and often followed by the words “blight” or “sprawl.” The new urbanism movement seeks to change all that and reshape the world’s cities into vital centers where people of all socio-economic backgrounds choose to live, work, and play.
Urban Blight, Urban Flight
The template for many cities across the globe, including Managua and mega-cities across Latin America such as Mexico and Rio de Janeiro has been middle-class workers move to the suburbs and commute to urban centers every day for work, while only the very wealthy and very poor remain within the city limits. The wealthy hide in protected communities, and the poor exist in substandard housing and endure crime, ugliness, and a lack of amenities.
Healthy People, Healthy Cities
The new trend is to reverse that, to make cities into integrated spaces where people live, walk to work or school, buy what they need locally, and play in recreational areas. Not only does this drastically improve urban life for everyone, but it leads to healthier habits like walking or biking instead of sitting in a car for hours. It also pumps money into the urban economy rather than draining it to suburban malls and corporate chain stores, thereby financing further improvements.
Conservation and Sustainable Growth
Less automotive commuting leads to a reduced dependence on foreign oil, not to mention cleaner air. Money spent on acquiring fossil fuels and repairing their environmental damage can now go toward other, much-needed areas. In addition, if more people choose to become urban citizens, there is less need for the relentless growth of suburban infrastructure: freeways, malls, parking lots, and housing developments that make inefficient use of land and resources. This frees up land for other critical uses such as food production and wilderness reclamation.
Possibly the most valuable result of new urbanism will be a return to a more social environment. People who walk around their city and work, play, and shop locally get to know their neighbors, forming an integrated community. When the people around are not “them” but “us,” our neighbors who we meet face to face every day, fewer people disappear into the cracks. Everyone is acknowledged, and as much as possible, everyone’s needs are met.