Urbanism and New Pedestrianism in the 21st Century
ABSTRACT: New Pedestrianism (NP) takes what
has been learned from New Urbanist projects, and then revives
and expands upon some old pedestrian-oriented experiments
in urban design that have become increasingly relevant. At
the same time, NP anticipates the rapidly accelerating pace
of science and technology. New Pedestrianism is an attempt
to bridge the gap between the automobile age and the information
age by building towns for the future that meet everyone’s
Michael E. Arth is a home, landscape, and urban designer,
as well as an artist, real estate developer, writer, filmmaker,
and futurist. Arth founded the more idealistic branch of New
Urbanism called “New Pedestrianism” in 1999. Books
include Introspective 1972-1982 and three works-in-progress:
The Labors of Hercules: Modern Solutions to 12 Herculean Problems,
The Past, and The Future. His documentary feature film about
New Urbanism, New Urban Cowboy: Toward a New Pedestrianism,
was released in 2008, and is now available on DVD at http://www.newurbancowboy.com.
Two more documentaries are planned for 2008: The Labors of
Hercules and UNICE, which is about the future.
New Urbanism (NU) and
New Pedestrianism (NP) respectively draw upon old urbanism
and old pedestrianism for inspiration. New Urbanism revives
and expands on principles of town planning that were ubiquitous
prior to WWII, while New Pedestrianism is a further iteration
of lesser-known, pedestrian-oriented experiments. Examples
of where pedestrian networks were built completely separate
from streets include the “walk streets” and canal
lanes in Venice, CA (c.1910), San Antonio’s Paseo del
Rio (1929), and most notably, Radburn, New Jersey (1929).
in Venice, CA.
designs probably did not take hold for these reasons:
of development from1929 to 1946 due to depression and
infatuation and dependency on the automobile.
flight to the suburbs.
of traditional street patterns.
engineers and transportation agencies began designing towns.
or biking became marginalized, or done mostly for recreation
in designated areas.
some NU planners have held the position that vitality and
safety is gained by combining cars, bikes, and pedestrians
on one corridor, even though the presence of cars appears
to drive away pedestrians and cyclists. New Pedestrianism
addresses this, as well as other current and future issues:
are dominated by the sight, smell, sound, and dangers presented
by cars. They are ugly, dysfunctional, unsustainable, unsafe,
Two-thirds of Americans are now overweight or obese, and
weight-related medical issues cause 112,000 excess deaths
per year in the U.S. A 2003 study estimated the economic
costs at $92.6 billion, which includes 9.1% of all U.S.
health costs. Having car-free lanes in front of every building
would make it easy and fun to walk off the excess pounds.
Automobile accidents kill and injure over 3 million people
each year in the U.S. with car insurance costing around
$243 billion. This does not include the cost of oil dependency,
resource wars, pollution, global warming, lost productivity,
and other issues.
immersive virtual reality will soon make cyberspace the
dominant reality. Because of this trend, we should focus
on making an ideal, sustainable physical world that will
compete with cyberspace and help maintain the body.
pedestrianism usually existed in niche applications, isolated
within a car-centered city, allowing few provisions for connectivity.
Usually the walk-streets or lanes were only wide enough for
pedestrians, and they were more oriented toward recreation,
rather than purposeful travel. The most common form of old
pedestrianism is the bungalow court, many examples of which
still exist. While still charming and much sought after today,
they usually exist as pedestrian islands with the pedestrian-oriented
features ending at the streets that surround them. The best
connectivity can be found at Radburn, where superblocks were
created with a central park that was almost like an expanded
bungalow court. These superblocks were joined up with pedestrian
courts have made a comeback in recent years. Examples include
“cottage homes” in Washington State, and my own
“Phoenix Court” in DeLand, FL, which is incorporated
into the redevelopment of a former slum neighborhood into
a pedestrian friendlier neighborhood I renamed The Garden
Court in DeLand, FL. Before and After:
later examples of separate pedestrian networks running through
greenbelts or park-like settings include Baldwin Park Village
(built in ’41-’42 and later renamed The Village
Green) in Los Angeles, and Village Homes, founded in 1975
in Davis, CA. While all of these examples comprise the old
pedestrianism, the New Pedestrianism includes these additional
all homes have a rear automobile street. The front pedestrian
lane offers safe, attractive, car-free, alternative travel.
Houses are closer to the lanes than would be expected on
a street. This allows for small parks, fountains, plazas
and other human scale features to be better protected, utilized,
minimum 12’ wide pedestrian lanes allow purposeful
travel for both cyclists and pedestrians. A textured surface
indicates pedestrian use, while the broader side of the
lane is smooth for rolling conveyances. In higher traffic
areas, the lane can be divided into separate corridors for
cyclists and pedestrians.
waterfront, greenbelt, or other attractive amenity is fronted
with the pedestrian lane, with the street hidden behind
the buildings. No important resource is lined with the back
yards of houses.
energy use, green certified structures, and water recycling
is encouraged, if not required.
- A greenbelt
surrounds most villages.
pedestrian village has its own mixed-use center. The highest
density is around the center, while the lowest density is
on the perimeter of the village. Those on the periphery
enjoy the added amenity of having a pedestrian lane that
adjoins the greenbelt. Any density can be accommodated and
each village can develop its own character.
transportation (including the future use of autonomous vehicles)
is highly efficient because primary travel routes need only
connect one village center to another, and an automobile
street network is still preserved that connects every home
every home and business has two entrances to serve the two
transportation networks. There are carriage houses and formal
garden entrances on the automobile side for residences.
Businesses still have a traditional entrance with head-in
parking at the rear, while also having a pedestrian entrance
at the front.
of this model would include nearly car-free villages, where
the lanes could provide access to special-sized emergency
vehicles, or service vehicles only at certain times, or
villages where the vehicles can access only from a hidden,
lower level. Villages in developing countries, or villages
for the homeless or those with special considerations might
only provide minimal streets for parking, access, and emergency
for developing countries: Kisima Kaya in Kenya. Streets are
shown in black, pedestrian lanes in red.
The seeds for new villages ring the periphery.
Kaya’s Village Center
for the Homeless
for former airport site, Austin, 1999
into a crystal ball has always been a tenuous venture, but
even as late as the 1970s futurists had the reasonable expectation
that the next decade would not be significantly different
from the previous decade—at least in terms of technological
progress. Recently it has become increasingly clear that a
new phenomenon is at work that could change nearly every aspect
of our lives, to say the least. Extrapolating from current
trends and drawing from a wide range of historical charts
drawn up by experts from various fields, it appears that the
21st century will produce the equivalent of 20,000 years of
technological progress, based on the year 2000. Even if there
is a drastic slowdown due to unforeseen events, it is clear
that we cannot use the past as a guide to the pace of future
development. The evolution of technology, taking over from
biological evolution, could have implications for the human
species that could easily exceed most scientists’ wildest
For this reason, we will set aside any long-term predictions,
and focus on near-term, urban-related issues. The NU movement
has been an attempt to revive the best of the old and combine
it with the new. This trend will continue to some extent,
but the force of new ideas will push us to confront the inherently
slow-moving nature of urban planning and development, which
is hindered even further by the complex tangle of ecological,
engineering, social, economic, political, and bureaucratic
Because of the widening gap between
technological innovation and the time it has traditionally
taken to remake our physical environment, it appears that
the existing infrastructure will be hard pressed to accommodate
changing needs. The best way to meet the demands of our rapidly
changing world may be with a two-fold path. The high social,
historic, and economic value of the existing inner cities
compels us to muddle through the morass by re-developing the
existing cities from the center outward, preserving or enhancing
the best of the old while integrating the new. At the same
time, we can ring existing cities with future-oriented, mixed-use
developments that serve both as a greenbelt to halt further
sprawl, and as places that meet the challenges of the future.
If the cities would establish NP-zoning for all new growth,
developers would have incentives and guidelines to build these
pedestrian villages. As suburban sprawl development deteriorates,
the redevelopment can creep inward to meet the revitalized
inner city. Pedestrian villages, constructed with transportation
networks that completely separate cars from pedestrians and
bicycles, will help make the transition into a more ecologically
and aesthetically oriented world where cars are no longer
the focus of our lives and architecture.
The experiment in Traditional Neighborhood
Design (TND) has matured and we can now draw some important
- Putting cars on both sides of buildings,
in streets and alleys, surrounds all buildings with cars
- Just like with sprawl development, buildings
are either separated from waterfronts, parks, greenbelts,
shopping, or other amenities by street frontage, or the
amenity is hidden behind buildings (often seen where the
backyards of houses line the waterfront.)
- TNDs are an aesthetic and social improvement
over typical sprawl development, but they still garner criticism
for being a less dense form of sprawl, only a little less
dependent on the automobile.
- Suburban sprawl often masquerades as NU
in an insidious, diluted, hybrid form that adopts the terminology
and some of the architecture.
- TNDs are not affordable. It is inevitable,
and not necessarily a terrible thing, that the poor will
usually have to contend with older housing that might not
be in great shape, and may be in an aging neighborhood with
mixed housing stock. Eventually, both NU and NP developments
will have aging, more affordable housing. Meanwhile, the
problem can be partially addressed by providing housing
of different types and sizes in new developments so that
people have pricing and rental options.
- Alternative transportation within TNDs
is more efficient than with urban sprawl, but it would be
even more efficient with NP, and many would walk or bike.
- The centers of TNDs are still full of cars,
parked cars, and traffic. NP solves this problem by creating
separate transportation networks and anticipating how transportation
will work in the future.
Will Become Information-Based
are six million motor vehicle accidents per year that produce
three million injuries and 42,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.
U.S. traffic casualties are roughly equal to re-fighting the
entire 20-year Vietnam War every 15 months. The nation still
mourns the 3,000 who died on 9/11, but more Americans die
each month from car accidents, with many times that number
suffering horrible injuries. The human, environmental, and
economic costs related to our dominant form of transportation
are hard to estimate. Still, we must add the cost of buying,
fueling, and maintaining all these cars, combined with the
costs of foreign oil dependency, pollution, and the time wasted
while being stuck in traffic. This does not even begin to
address the quality of life issues created by automobile-dominated
sprawlscapes, where beauty has been surrendered to the car
culture. It is no wonder that the words “developer”
and “development” have become curses. Each new
development means there will be more traffic and further degradation
of the environment. While technology is by itself morally
neutral, it is also a tool that can be used for good or bad.
The current, automobile-based transportation model, despite
many benefits, has proved itself to be an extremely destructive
technology in terms of social structures, the environment,
health, and safety. Fortunately, there are two major developments
that should vastly reduce the number of vehicles on the road,
and solve many of problems related to the environment and
One development has to do with fully autonomous vehicles,
which have already driven themselves for many thousands of
miles in various races. As early as 2020, these vehicles will
begin to be available. One hundred privately owned cars, normally
parked over 90% of the time, could be replaced by ten self-driving
cars, which can be almost continually operating. With this
reduction in the number of automobiles, parking garages and
parking lots could also be drastically reduced.
At the same time as this very important development is occurring,
it appears that the growing use of cyberspace for work, socializing,
communication, and entertainment will greatly reduce the need
for physical travel. This will bring back into focus the importance
of our local environment. As long as we still have physical
bodies, existing towns will be rebuilt and new towns will
be built that reflect the new—human scale—realities.
By the time self-driving cars begin to appear on the road,
the development of fully immersive virtual reality (VR) will
have greatly reduced the need for cars as we currently use
them. Today VR is experienced primarily through cell phones
or computers with sound and vision, and even touch, but eventually
all the human senses will be engaged on a level comparable
with reality. For most people, VR exists today in the form
of the telephone, TV, and the Internet, but it is only rarely
fully immersive. Two-dimensional worlds, like Second Life
(www.secondlife.com) where people can walk, fly, or transform
an avatar, already exist and anyone can visit them on the
avatar, Freddie Olmstead, contemplates a structure on a car-free
road inside Second Life.
The possibility of my Avatar being harmed by a car on this
road, or anywhere in VR, is zero.
faces a world where the only road is grown over with trees
Many young people use these virtual
worlds for gaming either alone or with friends, but they are
also used for a wide range of other activities. Second Life
is the 2-D cartoon version of the future, but even now in
existing virtual worlds you can meet and converse with people
all over the world, either by speaking normally, or through
translatable text. It also possible to buy land and build
virtual buildings, or engage in personal or business-related
activities. Eventually VR will encompass everything on the
Internet and expand upon it until an entire virtual universe
is created. Ultimately real cities of the future may have
only a tiny fraction of the vehicles they have now. Because
most activities will be taking place through computation,
transportation will be information-based instead of involving
complicated and potentially dangerous machines moving through
physical space using up time, energy, and resources. VR would
be a good use of technology and we should welcome it from
the comfort of our pedestrian villages where we can balance
our outer and inner worlds.