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The ‘New’ Urbanism
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Compass and pencil
Photo: Sanja Gjenero
Imagine buying a city. Completed in 2004, the sale of the Rouse Company included the city of Columbia, Maryland, and 37 malls. The cost was $7.2 billion.

Actually, according to the June 19, 2006, Washington Post article, “[The new owner] General Growth owns 246 of the 493 acres that make up Columbia’s town center, including 65 undeveloped acres. It makes money by selling land to builders, collecting rent from offices and restaurants, and redeveloping its properties.

“David Fick, an analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in Baltimore, said the planned-community division sets General Growth apart from its rivals because few companies build entire cities.

“Fick is so sure that Columbia Town Center will prosper under General Growth, he moved there after selling his house in the county’s priciest neighborhood. His townhouse is on a road that rings the [Columbia] mall, overlooking the Cheesecake Factory.”

Columbia is a planned city that the Rouse Company started in 1967. An early brochure waxed eloquent about the new approach to building a community: “The heart of the city will be the home of art and music schools, theatres, museums and galleries. By day, one edge of the lake will be a park with restaurants, coffee shops, carousels and entertainment; by night, it will be transformed into a gay and playful wonderland for people of every age.”

A Reconfigured Community

That same year, another planned community was begun by a company in northern Virginia: Reston Town Center. Since then Reston Town Center has had four owners as compared to the two owners of Columbia. Each of the owners of Reston Town Center has implemented new concepts, with “new urbanism” shaping the most recent reconfiguration. While it has a mall, restaurants, and some office complexes, Columbia currently is not configured as a high-density town center.

In reaction to suburban sprawl, community development in the 1980s began to follow a model dubbed “new urbanism.” Such communities have a carefully planned mix of high-density residences (such as condos and townhouses) and high-rise office properties linked by pedestrian-friendly areas such as wide sidewalks, fountains, and pocket parks. A mixture of retail, entertainment, and restaurants within walking distance of the homes and offices evokes small-town America during the early 20th century. Each town center has a different density in line with local zoning ordinances.

Is this new concept of urbanism the answer for communities today?

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