Miami’s Urban Design Revolution Print
Written by John Dorschner, Special to the BT; Photos by Silvia Ros   
July 2015

 

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company created the New Urbanism, which is transforming the world -- Miami included

TCover_1hese days their concepts permeate the lives of nearly everyone living in Miami-Dade -- when you find an astonishing plaza tucked into the Design District, walk out of a Brickell condo building to stroll along a Miami River walkway, or see a Biscayne Boulevard motel refurbished because of a complex sale of zoning rights.

Once considered odd-ball by government leaders, the design thinking of Miami architect-urban planners Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Andres Duany is embedded in the city’s sweeping Miami 21 urban plan, in the way a new Publix aligns with Biscayne Boulevard, plus new town plans for dozens of sites in the United States and throughout the world, including Belgium, Scotland, even Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

And when they start talking, watch out. Duany skewers Miamians for practicing “magical realism” in their views on Cuba and Silicon Valley, ridicules popular attempts to reduce traffic, and believes Miami Beach’s Art Deco District has descended into chaos.

Plater-Zyberk, the more circumspect of the duo, leads the way on local efforts, like how to start dealing now with sea level rise, while deftly lambasting the three most ambitious high-rise structures planned for Miami.

For more than three decades, the husband-and-wife business partners have been leading proponents -- locally and nationally -- of the New Urbanism, aimed at rededicating cities to walking and public transit, minimizing the need for cars and the sprawling suburbs built for them.

Robert A.M. Stern, a celebrated New York architect and dean of the Yale school of architecture: “They are the leaders of today’s traditional town planning movement, and all of us who are interested in the revitalization of cities sit at their feet.”

 

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Ellen Dunham-Jones, a Georgia Tech professor: “It’s impossible to overestimate their work.... They have inspired generations of new urbanists.”

Douglas Kelbaugh, former dean of architecture and urban planning at the University of Michigan: “They have changed the conversation on American urbanism.”

Such change didn’t come easy. In 1988, I profiled them in a cover story for the Miami Herald’s Sunday magazine, Tropic: “Their ambition is so singular, so grandiose, so egocentric, that at first it seems almost laughable: Working out of a wooden cottage in Coconut Grove, the husband-wife team believe they can revolutionize the world of architecture and urban planning, believe they can change the way we live by redesigning American suburbs and cities.”

To test their thinking, I arranged for them to sit down with Reg Walters, then county director of planning. They explained to him how neighborhoods need to be connected. One example: no walls between malls and housing subdivisions.

 

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“People who live 100 feet from a shopping center still have to get in a car to go to it,” Duany told him.

Walters responded that developers and homeowners adamantly supported such walls. He thought most of their ideas utterly impractical.

Almost three decades later, I asked them if they thought their ideas had become mainstream.

Duany: “No, not the mainstream. They’re the paradigm. That means our ideas must be part of the discussion. You’re either for it or against it, but you’re always measured against it.”

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Plater-Zyberk: “I’m not sure we’d call it mainstream. A lot of it is still a battle. There’s still a lot of the old suburban-type building going on. I think many people are with the program, have understood the ideas...and agree with them in general. What I think prevents it from being mainstream is that there’s still an enormous system that’s resistant to change.”

He’s from Santiago de Cuba, she from suburban Philadelphia. They met as undergrads studying architecture at Princeton, then both went on to graduate school at Yale. For a long time they were just friends.

 

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Moving to Miami, Duany joined Bernardo Fort-Brescia, a fellow Princeton grad, in creating Arquitectonica, in 1977. Duany invited Plater-Zyberk to work with him on a project in Key West. They became a couple. Fort-Brescia married Laurinda Spear, a Miamian who’d studied at Columbia. Together in 1977, the Ivy Leaguers became partners in the firm.

J06112015_design_district_0252All were bright, opinionated, ambitious. Fort-Brescia and Spear were into huge post-modern buildings, like the famed Atlantis on Brickell, with its palm tree in the middle. Duany and Plater-Zyberk were into integrated urban planning and traditional types of design. The couples split up, not amicably, in 1979.

In 1980, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, often called DPZ, designed Seaside, an 80-acre resort community in the Florida Panhandle, built for walking and front porches, with a town center that has apartments above the shops. The houses were supposed to blend in a Southern vernacular style.

Seaside was a huge hit with critics -- and home buyers. It still is. When Duany sat down recently for a Biscayne Times interview, he’d just returned from a trip escorting a public television crew around Seaside for a program on the best neighborhoods in America.

“To say they are the leaders of NU [New Urbanism] is too weak,” says Peter Calthorpe, a leading urban designer and architect in Berkeley who, along with DPZ, was a co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism, which now has 3000 members who have designed hundreds of towns.

“To say they are the pioneers is too short,” Calthorpe continues. “In fact they are the parents of NU: giving birth, nurturing, teaching, guiding, supporting, and finally enabling the independence of a movement that has changed the course of urban form.”


HCoverStory_4_1e is 65, she is 64. These days they work out of offices in Little Havana, in a family-type atmosphere where several of the staff’s dogs wander about.

In 1988 they sat side by side for interviews and finished each other’s sentences. Now they prefer to be interviewed separately, perhaps because their work in recent years has been on separate paths.

He shows up 40 minutes late for an interview, dressed in a Ralph Lauren polo shirt and casual slacks. He gets distracted, as when he stops to talk with a staffer about setting up his new Apple Watch. (“Isn’t there an instruction book?”)

She is punctual to the minute, wears a business suit, and stays focused on the questions.

Both are as trim as they were three decades ago.

His declarations are often canons blasting preconceived notions. She is politic, with a gentle style that served her well for the 18 years she was dean of the University of Miami’s School of Architecture. That job meant she usually had to remain close to Miami, and she’s handled most of the firm’s local projects, like the Design District.

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He travels a lot, dealing with far-flung projects and lecturing on the need for New Urbanism. “It has so many things going for it,” he says. “A, it’s anti-traffic. B, it’s part of the green movement -- driving around is nothing but carbon loading. C, it’s potentially egalitarian in interesting ways. Everybody has a right not to own a car. And D, it’s now associated with health,” as a growing library of studies show that the urban walker is more fit than the suburban car driver.

Kelbaugh of the University of Michigan: “Andres in particular has been...doggedly and persuasively outspoken, never shrinking back from a good fight with the opposition. He can be both generous and merciless with detractors, while Lizz can be gently but firmly diplomatic and gracious. With their complementary brilliance and different demeanors, there’s little, if any, room to get over, under, or around Andres and Lizz.”

They have 25 full-time employees, and many others they hire for particular jobs. They’ve never been much interested in money. For Seaside, which could have made them fabulously wealthy, they accepted only a single lot as payment from the developer. “The secret to our financial success,” Duany says, “is that we have no children. We work all the time. We don’t have expenses.”

Still, Plater-Zyberk says, the firm brings to Miami “several million dollars from other places every year,” since more than half their work is outside the area. They have a satellite office in Maryland.

Here’s a sampling of their thinking and projects:

 


Miami’s “Magical Realism”

CoverStory_8_1Duany: “Our industry is building. We package the weather through building.... We have the architects who are the hottest, the developers are the hottest. The consumers are ruthless on what’s cool and what isn’t.”

On design and developers: “Anyone can sell buildings on the water.”

What’s the source of funds to fuel this economy? “A huge mystery to me.”

Miami is competing with cities within a four-hour flight -- that means primarily Panama City, Panama, and Houston. Panama is particularly a competitor, becoming a hub for flights connecting North and South America, and it has been adding international banks at a far faster rate than Miami.

On Panama’s business leaders: “They went to Cornell. They speak English. There are no disadvantages. They are very, very, very light bureaucratically -- and we are very heavy bureaucratically. It has become in my lifetime extremely difficult to get things done. In the country and in Miami specifically.”

(Manny Diaz, former Miami mayor, has a different view, that Panama City is unregulated chaos. He was the force behind the order of Miami 21. More on that in a moment.)

On reports about Miami becoming a tropical Silicon Valley: “That’s wishful thinking. That’s typical Caribbean. By the way, there’s another problem Miami has that Houston doesn’t -- magical realism: Everybody here thinks just because they say it, it’s true.”

CoverStory_9_1On Cuba, where millions of workers earn $30 a month -- right next door to us: “That’s a lower wage scale than China. It’s an incredible fact no one groks. We’re either going to send them the jobs and the manufacturing, or they all come over here. We’re going to do everything possible to keep them over there. Once they open their doors, this is an indefensible coast.... But no one says this. That’s what I mean by magical realism.”

Plater-Zyberk: “We’re living in a very exciting time in Miami.... A very vibrant place, the diversity of people and cultures and the kind of investment that’s going on. There are very few cities in the U.S. enjoying that.”

On revising the zoning code in Miami 21: “The city was an adolescent and all we could do was to send it to finishing school. The character, the psychological makeup, was already there. We can just get it to behave better.

“Now, there are a few things to watch out for. One is affordability -- the kind of ridiculous prices.... It’s happening along the coast, but before the recession, the single-family house was an object of speculation that happens from time to time here that can make it difficult for people to afford to live here.”

 


Traffic Nightmare

They deride the idea that local traffic problems can be fixed by widening roads, a theory that’s at the heart of charging higher tolls for cars on Miami-Dade expressways to fund the construction of more lanes and flyovers.

Duany says even cities with pervasive mass transit -- New York, London, Paris -- have traffic problems. “People can decide whether they want traffic jams with six lanes of traffic, or twelve, or four. Traffic will expand to fit the road.”

It’s best to stop such expansion. That’s why he objects to engineers removing trees and parking spaces along streets like Alton Road in Miami Beach to create turn lanes that facilitate traffic.

Duany and Plater-Zyberk believe urban planning is the best answer -- making it easier for people to live near their work. One key: affordable housing available in a wide variety of places so that people don’t have to drive from distant suburbs to work in expensive downtowns.

One easy solution is “densifying the stations of the Metrorail.” Duany thinks it “scandalous” that the Coconut Grove station, for example, isn’t a magnet for high-rise development, giving workers an easy commute.

Plater-Zyberk: “Transit has to be subsidized. I mean, your taxes pay for the roads we drive on, for God’s sake.... We are surrounded by low-density suburbs that can never be transit friendly -- and so there’s always going to be some driving that has to happen. But there’s more transit we could add.”

 


Best and Worst Recent Buildings

CoverStory_6_1Duany: “The single most interesting building in Florida is the parking garage on Lincoln Road,” where it meets Alton. “Remember, a parking garage is connected to the road. It is a public space.”

He suggests people take the elevator to the top floor, where there’s a public event space. “Take a look around, and then take the stairs down.”

He also praises the Pérez Art Museum Miami: “A wonderful tropical building.” (Both the garage and PAMM were designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron.)

The worst buildings are around Flagler, near the airport: “Spanish kitsch, fifth-rate.”

Plater-Zyberk: “Our art museum is a real home run. It’s a civic building in the best sense.” People can go to its back porch and have a drink overlooking the bay and the cruise ships. “A great idea, beautifully executed.”

“I think the clothespin [the proposed Skyrise observation tower, designed by Arquitectonica] and the Innovation Tower [with its 600-foot flashing billboard, designed by Brooklyn-based SHoP Architects] are definitely candidates for big mistakes,” as is a concrete-block storage building going up just west of I-95 by the downtown exits -- a blank structure with no aesthetic face toward the tens of thousands of commuters who see it daily.

On the spectacular high-rises: “I don’t think we need the biggest anything in the world,” including the “biggest casino in the world,” the Genting site that’s another Arquitectonica project. “We need to understand what our capacity is, where this adolescent came from. If we’re giving money to something, it shouldn’t be some pie-in-the-sky project -- it should be helping people get around.”

 


The Design District

CoverStory_10_1On a humid Saturday afternoon, Plater-Zyberk took me for a stroll around the Design District, where she has been working with developer Craig Robins for almost 20 years.

She says walking is the way to see what’s distinctive because in a cursory trip by car, visitors might miss the area’s unusual aspects and only encounter rows of high-end, single-story retail stores like Armani and Cartier.

Plater-Zyberk starts on Palm Court, a modern version of a plaza worthy of a European city; it’s tucked into the center of a block.

A copy of Fly’s Eye Dome, a large sculpture by R. Buckminster Fuller, sits in the court’s center, sheltering a stairway to a hidden garage below. Asian tourists are taking selfies.

Up an escalator is another public space, with large swinging chairs to relax in and play the flâneur -- all of it hidden from the street.

Plater-Zyberk says the main challenge was the long east-west blocks. She came up with the idea of a north-south walkway that runs for several blocks between NE 1st and 2nd avenues.

The result: “People walking around, sitting in restaurants, enjoying the action.”

When they started, Duany and Plater-Zyberk were firm advocates of the Paris model, with shops on the first floor and apartments above. But here in the Design District, she says, each high-end retailer wanted to design its own building. “The retailers want to be in control without someone living on top of them,” potentially telling them what they can or can’t do with the property.

Originally, she says, Palm Court was to have a southern exit to connect with Midtown, but jewelers in the Design District were concerned about security issues, so the court opens only northward, to the rest of the district.

 


Miami 21 Overhaul

CoverStory_11_1Almost a decade ago, Manny Diaz, then mayor of Miami, became convinced that city building and zoning codes needed to be overhauled. In 2007 he selected Plater-Zyberk as lead consultant to the city.

“I had a great understanding of their work,” Diaz says of DPZ. They shared the same vision of what a city should be, she was “one of the best-known city planners in the country, and she lived right here,” with the added heft of being a UM dean.

The goal was to revise codes that had been patched and amended over decades, and create a city that embraced the New Urbanism -- de-emphasizing the car, creating walkable streets, designing buildings that connected with the rest of the city.

It took 500 meetings to solidify Miami 21. Both Diaz and Plater-Zyberk chuckle lightly when asked if they can imagine Duany, who can erupt with a withering blast anytime he hears something he considers stupid, having the patience to sit through so many discussions.

Plater-Zyberk had the patience plus a gentle ability to bring others around to her thinking for the new code, which was approved in 2009. “She did a phenomenal job,” says Diaz.

One example Diaz cites of how Miami 21 works: the Publix at 18th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, which includes storefronts for Wells Fargo and GNC facing the street, with the parking garage out of sight in the back. Contrast that with the considerably older Publix at 48th Street and the Boulevard, where a parking lot separates the supermarket from the street.

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A recent example that didn’t work: plans for a highly stylized building at 26th and the Boulevard meant to house the offices and art of mutual funds manager Bruce Berkowitz. The design by Arquitectonica kept being rejected by the city because it didn’t connect closely with the street as required by Miami 21. In late June, Berkowitz announced he was abandoning the project.

Overall, Plater-Zyberk views Miami 21 as a success, but says she knew the limitations starting out. “We recognized that the high-rises on Brickell and in Coconut Grove were not going to fill in with storefronts on the road.”

She considers the code’s transfer of air rights -- a provision that has helped to finance renovations at the Vagabond Motel and other Boulevard properties in Miami’s Upper Eastside -- as an interesting experiment that should be watched carefully because it may be needed later in dealing with rising seas. (More on that in a moment.)

Another nagging problem: parking requirements for new structures. A small apartment building in Little Havana may be impossible to build today because its lot can’t possibly accommodate the required number of parking spaces. That means buildings now have to be bigger, on bigger lots, just to deal with parking -- a reminder of how important the car remains, even in post-suburban planning.

Developers have ways to get exemptions to parking requirements, but neighbors often put up a fuss, afraid that new tenants will overwhelm street parking.

 


Miami’s Upper Eastside vs. SW 27th Avenue

One area where local residents rejected the essential ideas of Miami 21 was in the MiMo Historic District, between 50th Street and 78th Street along Biscayne Boulevard, a broad street that New Urbanists maintain should have been a Paris boulevard, with shops on the ground floors and several floors of apartments above them.

Duany: “Drive 27th Avenue. You’ll see it rising in a rather dignified look” in some parts, an incipient bit of Paris. “And that’s because the neighbors are not so well-heeled that they can hire lawyers. The problem with Biscayne Boulevard is that residents east of the Boulevard can hire lawyers,” who persuaded the city to agree to a 35-foot height limit.

Plater-Zyberk says Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, then a city commissioner, insisted on further height limitations in certain stretches along SW 27th Avenue because of neighbor complaints. In theory, Miami 21 calls for height transitions, so that a 20-story high-rise, for example, wouldn’t be placed next to a one-story house, as happened occasionally in the past.

A Paris style would have made Biscayne Boulevard “a pleasant space,” she says, but it’s “an example where the impact on the neighborhood is considered more important than city-making.... So there’s a constant discussion between public benefits and private interests.”

 


Dealing with Rising Seas Today

CoverStory_12_1Duany: “Lizz is tracking where the pipes and pumps are going. I’m planting the flag on the train out of control.”

The growing talk of climate change has people heading in two directions, he says: “You have a bunch of Calvinists, who are bicycling. And then you have the people who are partying on like mad. That’s their response to catastrophe.”

He points to the horsepower of expensive new cars and “the extraordinary luxury of those high-rises” along the threatened waterfront -- buildings that are “absolutely unsustainable. If there’s any failure of electricity, they’re as fragile as they can be, but some people are saying: ‘Let’s have the last few shots at it.’”

Plater-Zyberk has been working on sea level rise issues for years, both at the county and regional levels, much of it with Miami-Dade Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin, who headed a blue-ribbon panel that, he admitted later, produced many ideas that got lost in the shuffle.

Climate change wasn’t incorporated in Miami 21, she says, because the environmental discussions were just getting under way when the city code was solidified. But now “we need to get our ship in order” and start addressing the climate-change issues.

“You can do three things,” she explains. “You can defend yourself and fortify a place. You can adapt to flooding water and live with it. Or you can retreat because it would cost too much money or be unhealthy to stay in a certain place.”

CoverStory_13_1What places are worth saving, at least for a while? Perhaps the coastal areas are more valued while “the little shopping center on SW 8th Street may not be so important for the future of our region,” she says, fully aware that some western areas have less elevation than some coastal areas.

She expects that as the sea rises, “people will get organized to advocate their interests.” Some will likely advocate for saving some historic buildings at all costs.

Even retreating from certain areas will cost money, both to clean up the sites and compensate property owners. The problem is that “real estate doesn’t have an end game. The mortgage will get paid off when you sell the property, but what if you can’t sell it?”

She thinks the concept of sales of air rights in Miami 21 may help to deal with rising seas. Displaced owners might be able to sell their zoning rights to others in higher elevations.

Another possibility: Adapting the longstanding tradition in some coastal parts of New England to build cheap wooden structures that are expected to flood or be blown down occasionally and then rebuilt without much cost. That would be more a possibility as flood insurance gets outrageously expensive or can’t be had at any cost, an inevitable outcome as the seas rise.

“That’s a discussion that we’re not having.” Yet. 

 


Patching It Up with Arquitectonica


The husband-wife teams split with considerable animosity as Fort-Brescia’s passion for post-modernism collided with DPZ’s belief in embracing vernacular designs.

In 1988, nine years after the breakup, Fort-Brescia told me in that same Tropic magazine story: “Our firm believes in originality. They don’t.” Of the cracker style of Seaside: “I would have died before we would have done that.”

In the intervening years, Duany says, relations have smoothed. The two firms have even occasionally collaborated, such as a project for apartments near The Collection car dealership on S. Dixie Highway.

“Of all the high-design architects,” Duany says, “they’re the only ones who come in on budget. The other guys just don’t. They’re not professional. It’s scandalous. Whenever we recommend another architect, it bites us.”

Duany remains critical of the older high-rise condos on Brickell, such as Atlantis and the Palace that brought Arquitectonica its first fame: They’re surrounded by seas of green and parking, meant to be entered and exited by car -- “the high-rise in the park.... I call it density without urbanism.”

But Duany says Arquitectonica’s recent work, such as Brickell CityCentre, is totally integrated with a walkable city: “Everybody is buying into the New Urbanism.”

Still, he bristles on being reminded of Fort-Brescia’s 27-year-old comment about Seaside: “Seaside is much more famous than any of their buildings.”

Fort-Brescia did not respond to requests for comment.

 


Miami and Environs


Downtown

CoverStory_7_1Plater-Zyberk: It’s on the upswing. “There are people sitting on the sidewalks in cafés that were never there before. Some beautiful buildings are being restored. But it does need to have its one-way street patterns completely rethought.”

One-way streets are intended for cars zooming to somewhere else. “There’s probably twice as much car movement as there needs to be.” She thinks the ramp from I-95 that dumps into the former Dupont Plaza needs to be redone, to bring it down more into the city center so that cars wouldn’t have to double-back westward.

“But it’s definitely on its way,” she adds. “The walkway along the river and the bay -- it’s really exciting.”


Brickell

Duany: “The old Brickell was built with suburban attitudes -- the high-rise in the park. I think the new crop along the river is a different animal.”

Plater-Zyberk: “The new Brickell is totally connected. Shops on the ground floor. They’re still building tons of parking, but you can walk out the front door and walk to eat, or a museum, or a train. The really neat thing is the bay walk, and the river walk is slowly getting connected.”


Midtown

Plater-Zyberk: “A very clever way” of integrating big-box retailers into the urban fabric.


Miami Beach

Duany: “Miami Beach is one of the very few places in the United States where you can live 100 percent without a car.” Particularly the Art Deco District.

“But the Deco District has withered. It’s probably losing value. It’s been taken over by teenagers. If you see the stores on Washington, it’s a disaster. I have an apartment there, and I’m going to sell it -- and that’s where I was going to retire.

“They’re totally out of control.” Music blasts at all hours, ignoring noise ordinances. “The food has actually raced down the rat hole in quality. Retail on Washington is less than Third World standards. It’s basically a monoculture of young people who at night basically behave like louts. People who sleep at night find it extremely difficult.”


Aventura

Plater-Zyberk: “I suspect it’s a fixed landscape that will not change for a long time.”

Duany: “I haven’t been there in my life.”

 


ICoverStory_14_1n 1988, Duany said the great cities of Europe were built during eras of dictators, who could impose a uniform vision, controlling developers and architects in order to avoid urban chaos.

At Seaside, DPZ used a soft touch, not an iron hand. The zoning instructions were written on a single sheet of paper. County zoning demands were virtually nonexistent. “Regulations were so light that no one impeded us at Seaside,” Duany says.

That’s changed. Regulations almost everywhere have become immense. “Right now, to get a project permitted,” he says, “you have to marshal an army of consultants, even if the project is legal. We are totally overtaken by burons” -- that is, public officials considered impediments to enterprise.

Isn’t that a huge change in his thinking? “Remember, we haven’t talked in 30 years,” he replies.

Major developers can afford to hire teams of consultants to lead them through permitting, but Duany says “it’s impossible to do anything small. There is very little chance for the small operator.... There are people in Coconut Grove who want to build houses who have been absolutely defeated by bureaucracy.”

Armed with a $600,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, Duany has launched the Lean Urbanism movement, helping small contractors and architects get things done. “We’re talking about creating a pink zone.... Rules have not been eliminated, but the bureaucratic process has been lightened by the application of experts.”

He calls it a “generational transfer of expertise, clearing the field for those who don’t yet know how to deal with bureaucracy.”

Duany says this is not an attack on Miami 21, which was led by his wife. “It’s not reforming code -- it’s deploying what we have, the experts, to hand over to the next generation so that there’s the level playing field.”

Plater-Zyberk says Miami 21 is not the problem. It’s a more simple and much clearer use of zoning code, and many architects have told her it’s a vast improvement. It’s only an inch thick, she says, quite concise for such a large city. “Now, over time it will become complex because it will be tinkered with.”

She adds that the problem is not the code but all the paperwork and bureaucratic entanglements needed to get projects approved by various government agencies.  That’s particularly true in older cities, where patchwork codes dating back decades have become nightmares of overlapping and conflicting regulations.

In 1988, I heard what seemed like dogmatic earnestness. That tone has modified.

“All the codes we are writing are optional,” Duany says. “Some people want and love their cars, and there are places where only cars make sense. The difference between DPZ and other New Urbanists is that is we have the A grid and the B grid. The A grid is walkable. The B grid isn’t. Parking lots have to be somewhere, strip shopping centers have to be somewhere.

“I’m not interested in imposing my ideology on people,” he continues. “I just want to make them happy. And when people want vulgarity, they want kitsch -- I don’t do that well. I recommend some other architects for them.”

Plater-Zyberk’s work in the Design District accepts retailers’ demands for one-story shops without apartments above. But “flexible...is not the right word,” she says. “I think we have a much broader purview. In 1988 I think we were talking largely about what we could do in new places,” such as Seaside. “Then we started doing infill neighborhoods [and] we encountered the politics of building, which I don’t think we had done yet in 1988.”

She notes that the firm still designs some projects that are tightly tied to the New Urbanism, such as Alys Beach, a new town on the Gulf in the Panhandle. “It’s highly dogmatic, stylistically harmonious.”

But “we have a larger range than we did then,” she says. “You recognize what you can change and what you can’t.”


WCoverStory_15_1hile the couple avoids claiming they’re now mainstream, some of their strongest supporters say that’s what has happened.

“One by one, the market, the planners, the builders, the developers, the environmentalists, and the affordable-housing advocates have endorsed or assimilated the principles,” says Dunham-Jones at Georgia Tech.

Her research shows that, nationwide, the New Urbanism has caused the retrofitting of more than 1200 dead shopping malls, office parks, and commercial strip corridors, plus huge numbers of downtown revitalizations and more than 200 mixed-use, mixed-income housing projects.

Kelbaugh, the Michigan professor, says New Urbanism theories “have become mainstream with developers, planners, elected officials, and government agencies,” but academics and professional architects are often at arm’s length, if not hostile.

“NU tends to crimp the outright, even absolute design freedom that many architects -- especially starchitects -- have come to see as normal and justifiable.... NU doesn’t allow designers to turn all the dials up at once, because it demands respect for the history, context, and culture of a particular place.”

At the very least, Duany says, “The New Urbanism matured to the extent that when we call Washington, we get our calls returned. In fact, many new urbanists are now leaders in Washington. We’re dealing with the grownups -- with the transit people, the climate-change people.”

Stern, the Yale dean, praises DPZ for having “an international reputation for extremely thoughtful, inventive town design,” but says their ideas are not yet mainstream. “I wish the theories of New Urbanism would become mainstream -- then our cities would begin to be beautiful once again.”

 

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