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New Urbanism: Substance or Image? Illustrate your essay with specific examples.


Having to face the outfall of Modernist utopian dreams that ended up as bland, dystopian housing estates as well as Postmodernist celebration of eclectic individualism, New Urbanists are struggling to find a way to realise the social aspirations of Modernist town planners in the context of a capitalist society. With particular reference to the American organisation Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) this thesis analyses whether it is possible for an architectural movement to change urban neighbourhoods for the better in a market-driven economy.


In the twentieth century not one but two movements with town planning at their heart came to prominence in the architectural communities of the Western World. At the beginning of the century the Modern Urbanists, organised as the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne developed out of the Modern Movement, while towards the turn of the millennium the New Urbanists formed.

While the modernist manifesto of urbanism responded to the social needs of the time, its vision did not succeed. This failure was not due to the aesthetic rendered by the removal of traditional ornamentation, the efficient use of new materials or the industrial standardisation, but the zoned sprawl, which might have worked on the drawing board but in reality created anti-humanistic environments. The New Urbanists have returned to the belief that the built environment is part of the solution of contemporary social problems. They are, in principle, quite aware that this is not necessarily a matter of aesthetics, though. Unfortunately it often gets identified as of a particular style, as people not familiar with New Urbanist principles mix it up with Neotraditionlism, complete with its nostalgia which appeals to a lot of homebuyers, as it markets itself as the dream of life in small-town America. However, New Urbanism is not a matter of image, of aesthetics or style. It is more than that. The concept is based on substance, on principles formulated out of urban patterns developed over centuries.

At the end of the day, however, it will be time that will determine whether new urbanist townscapes were successful in providing a social, environmental and culturally sustainable framework that made urban design relevant again.

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