Creating Livable Communities Where Feet Do the Walking

A SMALL but growing number of land developers are rejecting car-bound subdivision designs for a more integrated neighborhood concept, where houses, stores, and offices are close enough for walking between them. Andres Duany, with his partner and wife, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, is a founding leader in this suburban-planning movement. In a recent interview with the Monitor, Mr. Duany discussed suburban life and traditional neighborhoods.

On the popularity of new traditional neighborhoods

This idea seems to be taking off at a rate that I never would have dreamt possible. Many things are coinciding ... the ecological movement, a generation of yuppies who don't associate small-town living with boredom. It's fantastic.

In the Midwest, people don't know what I'm talking about. They're still moving out of towns. To them, towns are still associated with boredom, bad plumbing, bad insulation, old buildings.

In places like Washington and Miami the small town is highly romanticized. It's an entirely different generation. People didn't grow up in small towns, so they have a romantic attitude, which I believe [the towns] can fulfill. The boredom factor has disappeared because of video and cable and so forth.

On developers

The developers find that it's a very marketable idea. The basic increment of purchase, the house on a lot, is still what the buyer buys. What you're doing is assembling it into a community, which itself is a wonderful marketing device - living in a town or neighborhood.

What we're trying to make developers realize is that the making of public space doesn't cost them anything, that the making of community doesn't cost them anything, but people will pay for it.

On parking

In fact, the towns we are designing are hybrids. The streets feel like the older towns but there is a completely modern complement of parking. We're designing for before the revolution. Ultimately I think the use of cars will drop. But right now we're not waiting for that time, so our towns have the full complement of parking. But it's very carefully placed. It's hidden. It doesn't destroy the public space the way what you normally find in the suburbs does.

On affordable housing

Nothing that can be done in terms of cheapening the dwelling or reducing the size of the dwelling can achieve the same effect as permitting the family to own one car less.

Wherever there are jobs, there should be a complement of housing nearby such that a workman would not have to spend $4,000 a year on a car, so that they would be able to afford the housing. It's a simple and powerful formula.

On commuting

People think they work eight-hour days, but they actually work 11-hour days. People think they're not owned by the company, but they are owned by the company. They're owned by Detroit and Hartford. And by Houston. The fuel, the cars, and the insurance. It's exactly like the old 19th-century industrial proletariat.

On cars

As long as the cars flow freely, there's a case to be made for the love of the car. We want to restore the car to the romantic instrument which it appears to be in all the advertisements, instead of a kind of orthopedic device, which is what it has become now. It's like a wheelchair. You cannot exist without a car.

On cities

What you see here in Miami is really only the first crust of construction. All this will go and be rebuilt again and be rebuilt again, before it takes any kind of permanent form. That's what happened to any city - London, Paris, Rome.

Miami will be unrecognizable 100 years from now. In fact the urgency is: Can we change the [zoning and building] codes so that as it becomes rebuilt, it happens along a more reasonable model?

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