Wednesday, November 28, 2007

New Urbanism in Vermont? A Few Connections

In the winter of 2006, a conference was convened by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. The intense brainstorming session was an effort, eager to seize the opportunity left in Katrina's terrible wake, a fleeting chance to correct past development wrongs.

The design conference was organized by the Congress for New Urbanism, which champions returning towns and cities to denser, more pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, a counterweight to car-dominated sprawl and empty downtowns filled with trophy buildings.

Over the past 20 years, the movement has steadily proven itself with a growing list of buildings and community projects around the country. In Mississippi, the new urbanists had their first shot at reworking an entire region according to their principals.

Big roads, big retailers, big parking lots - the Mississippi coast had become Anywhere, U.S.A., and the design conference set to the task of mapping a better course.

It was there that architect Robert Orr (UVM ‘70), Duany, and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (Duany's wife) hatched a new approach to architecture from old ideas. The threesome studied the elements that make places livable (such as street trees, front porches, sidewalks) and developed guidelines for these details. They reached outside architecture's ivory tower, joining forces with other professions from urban planners to retail consultants. "New urbanism is not about heroics. It's not about architecture. It's about creating a good environment," Orr says.

For one week, some 300 architects, developers, lawyers, traffic engineers, sociologists, and urban planners focused their creative energies on 11 hurricane-damaged cities along 80 miles of coastline, from Pascagoula to Waveland.

Orr, who heads up Robert Orr & Associates in New Haven, has been at the forefront of new urbanism since its inception. He worked on Seaside, a community on the Florida panhandle that is perhaps the movement's best-known new project.

An Indiana native, Orr earned his bachelor's in history and art at UVM, then studied at Yale's graduate school of architecture, where he became friends with a like-minded fellow student named Andreas Duany. The term "new urbanism" never crossed either man's lips back then, but "we both had a lot of doubts about the path of contemporary architecture at the time," Orr says.

A few examples of "New Urbanism" in Vermont can be found in develoments at The Palisades in Stowe Vermont and the just started 334 unit South Village project in South Burlington Vermont.
This is a growing trend across Vermont and the United States. With the cost of fossil fuels in real dollars and resulting degradation to our environment, their is a growing interest and trend now towards these friendly development concepts.

For more information on these Vermont developments contact me, or to express your ideas post a comment here at Hurd's The Word.

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