New urbanism and the culture of criticism

Emily Talen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


Opinions about new urbanism have polarized. From the academy, analysts have generally nurtured a vigorous contempt for new urbanism, while planning practitioners view it simply as the most recent articulation of a reoccurring planning theme: simple clusters of housing, retail space, and offices within a quarter-mile walking radius of a transit system. In this paper, I argue that while there is much to discredit in current applications of new urbanism, there is a need to recast the debate in such a way that the principles of new urbanism can be upheld and specific applications can be continually revised. A recast debate would focus on either: (1) the underlying conceptual framework required for proper discussion of any normative planning; (2) the specific normative principles of new urbanism; (3) the descriptive assumptions used by new urbanists; or (4) the specific experiences of, to date, applied new urbanism. To articulate the specifics of this recast debate, I argue the following: (1) that there are two underlying viewpoints that must be accepted before any constructive debate on new urbanism can proceed; (2) that the principles of new urbanism are part of a long-standing, well-articulated school of thought about urban problems and their solutions, which is shared by a great many urban reformers; (3) that critiques of new urbanism have focused not on these principles but on either the assumptions on which new urbanist arguments have been (not very effectively) articulated, or on the problems of its implementation, neither of which are fatal; and (4) that a restructured debate on new urbanism, one that takes these varying levels of discourse into account, would be more effective if it centered on either (a) the principles and assumptions underlying new urbanism, which could in fact lead to a reappraisal of new urbanist prescription, or (b) in the event that the principles are basically agreed on, an investigation of the causes of implementation failure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-341
Number of pages24
JournalUrban Geography
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 1 2000


  • New urbanism
  • Normative theory
  • Urban planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies


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