Many professionals predict that the citizens of the future American metropolis will live in smaller homes closer to work, to play and, above all, to one another, according to USA Today:
Global warming will be a fait accompli in 30 years, and so these urban Americans will raise their own food, in fields and on rooftops, and build structures to withstand everything from hurricane winds to Formosan termites.
They will walk and ride more and drive less. And they will like it.
This is the future envisioned by Andres Duany, architect, town planner, teacher and polemicist. And the future, he will tell you, is his business.
“It’s my job to think ahead,” he says. “People say you can’t predict the future because they’re experts in the present, and the present is a distortion field.”
Duany has a track record of prescience. Three decades ago he created the plan for this Panhandle beach town, arguably the most influential settlement since Levittown’s opening on Long Island sparked suburbia’s sprawl in 1947.
He designed Seaside as a rebuke to Levittown. Duany aimed to revive civic sociability and reduce dependence on cars by mixing homes, offices, stores and play areas in a tight grid of streets, paths and squares. Seaside’s old-town look, displayed in the 1998 film The Truman Show, was no accident; front porches and picket fences were required by code, and lawns, artificial siding and attached garages were forbidden.
Duany went on to co-found the planning movement New Urbanism, which advocates communities based on the pedestrian and mass transit instead of the car and highways. Although only a fraction of new construction over the past two decades fit that prescription, New Urbanism had gained momentum when the housing bubble popped.
The bust succeeded in doing what New Urbanism had not: stopping suburban sprawl and drastically reducing the value of much of what had been built on the metropolitan periphery.
When construction picks up, says Robert Lang, who teaches urban affairs at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, New Urbanism will take the lead. In the Washington, D.C., area, partly insulated from the downturn by federal spending, compact settlements near mass-transit stations already are the norm.
Duany and the New Urbanists have their critics. Demographer Joel Kotkin of Southern California’s Chapman University argues that the convenience of the car and the suburb ensures their continued dominance over mass transit and city centers. And British architecture critic Jonathan Glancey has called New Urbanism “holier-than-thou” in its presumption that planners know best.
But no one questions the influence of Duany, whom Lang calls “a guru of the new metropolis.”
At 63, Duany has been spending less time on specific projects at the Miami-based practice he founded with his wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. He has been thinking about the next 30 years, because “that’s how long it takes for an urban vision to be realized.”
Duany says that to see the future, you have to “translate” the present. He’s sitting in a chic pizzeria near the beach in Seaside when he sees something out the window that illustrates his point.
“A teenager with a skateboard drives here with $3 to spend and parks all day for free,” he says. “At the moment, people say, â??Cool, man, it shows kids want to come to Seaside.’ But I translate that as a future problem, when merchants are up in arms because parking is being dominated by one kid in a car.”
Indeed, as he speaks, the town designed as a pedestrian paradise is preparing to introduce valet parking.
Duany believes that soon, Americans—despite their inveterate optimism—will realize they’re in a pickle. Energy costs aren’t coming down and personal incomes aren’t going up; global warming won’t be stopped; government is impoverished; civil unrest is not out of the question.
New Urbanism, which proposes to cure the metropolis of its sprawling, polluting, time-wasting, class-segregating, bankrupting ways, “is perfectly positioned,” he says. “It’s what the doctor ordered for the next 30 years.”
The future he envisions looks less like the present and more like the past:
1. Urban retrofit for suburbia
2. Gardener on the roof
3. Government goes hyper-local
4. Buildings that look cool and safe
5. Mormon settlers as models