A conservative case for urbanism

April 3, 2008 at 5:42 pm

(Jon) I plan on posting information and news about Philip Bess in advance of his lecture on April 16 at the downtown library.

In that spirit, I found this review at Campus Magazine Online of Bess’ book, “Till We Have Found Jerusalem.”

Those who are politically conservative are rightly suspicious of new-fangled sounding ideas about city planning — in fact, the phrase “city planning” sounds utopian and liberal. But in an excerpt from his book, Bess makes the conservative case for urbanism. Here’s a small quote:

(T)he essential New Urbanist argument is simply that the physical form of cities matters to human wellbeing, that there are observable and repeatable physical patterns of traditional human settlement-making that have served human beings well over long periods of time, and that therefore these physical patterns of human settlement ought to be studied, extended, and improved rather than abandoned to the current legal and cultural regime of sprawl that often prohibits and almost always discourages good urban design.

Then he proposes “an unofficial New Urbanist creed for cultural conservatives”:

  • We believe that individuals have both rights and obligations, that individual well-being requires good communities, and that liberty is not license.
  • We believe that individuals should have as much freedom as justice allows.
  • We affirm the political principle of subsidiarity, which holds that political decisions for the common good should be made at and through the smallest and most local institutional levels possible.
  • We believe that the Urban Transect as a principle both promotes and accounts for the widest possible variety of free, just, and environmentally sustainable human settlements.
  • We contend that traditional towns and urban neighborhoods demonstrate historically that they both support and are supported by the free exchange of material goods and ideas, including private property.
  • We profess traditional urbanism in all its manifestations through the Urban Transect as the best way for human beings to organize and make human settlements.
  • We fight for those who desire to live in compact, diverse, walkable communities, in the proximity of open landscape and a public realm of plazas, squares, and pedestrian-friendly streets.
  • We fight for the legal right to build traditional towns and neighborhoods. We hope and believe that the merits of traditional towns and neighborhoods, manifest in various specific local forms, will cause traditional urbanism to once again someday prevail as a cultural norm.
  • We work for the common good now, and for the common good of future generations.

I’ve ordered the book — it’s sadly not available at the county library, although his book on baseball stadiums is — and I hope to be able to comment on it before his lecture.

Mark your calendars: His lecture is 6 p.m. April 16 at the downtown library.

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Entry filed under: books, Jon Swerens, Urbanism. Tags: , , , .

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