Wednesday, May 24, 2006

New Urbanism and Old Urbanism

Although I live happily in a Modern house on three acres in the woods, I’m drawn to the ideas of the New Urbanists, planners and architects who reject suburban sprawl in favor of development that models itself on the best of our older downtown communities – Port Washington instead of Northern Boulevard, or Westport instead of Route 7 in Wilton.

This is partly an aesthetic bias on my part and partly an acknowledgement that compact development is better for the environment. It probably also creates better communities, although that too is probably a matter of bias.

The other side of the New Urbanist coin is old urbanism – the cities and towns that still work well, or that once worked well, as places to live and work. When I say “once worked well,” I’m referring to the many old industrial cities that flourished in Connecticut but are now struggling (and here’s where the environmental quality part of my argument breaks down: in the old days, those cities were environmental disasters because they developed before there were adequate sewers and sewage plants).

Bridgeport and Waterbury were both major brass producing cities, but for both, the golden age is far in the past. In Bridgeport, there’s a debate now over how best to use older buildings, and one thing they point to is the successful renovation of the old Palace Theater in Waterbury, which was renovated 18 months ago and has since drawn 200,000 people into the area, at least according to its owner.

Bridgeport has its own old theater – the Bijou, which apparently is the oldest theater in the country with a movie screen – and a developer is working on $15 million renovation of it and a couple of adjacent buildings.

Who cares about an old movie theater? The idea (or at least one of the ideas) is that if Bridgeport becomes an attractive to place to live, it might slow the pace of suburban development that sprawls across the landscape.

The Bridgeport Historical Society discussed the theater renovation and the re-use of other historical buildings at a forum the other night; a Connecticut Post account is here. The Times, coincidentally, has a story about Andres Duany, New Urbanism, and the Gulf Coast , here, and John Massengale discusses it on his blog, here.


Blogger globaltowns said...

Enjoyed this article, Tom. Appreciating Old Urbanism is a favorite activity of mine, too. Check out Good Old Urbanism. If you have favorite towns you'd like to talk about, I'd be happy to republish on my blog.

8:50 PM  

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