For years there has been a divergence of thinking amongst built environment professions and the public about how new residential developments should look: suburban style 1970s and 1980s cul-de-sacs based on road layouts designed for cars, or denser walkable neighbourhoods with grid-style street patterns.
Many planners and urban designers have been arguing for years that we should stop building culs-de-sac and only allow denser walkable neighbourhoods – because they are more sustainable and build better communities. See for example the British Academy of Urbanism, the American Congress for the New Urbanism, and the Prince of Wales’ Prince’s Foundation (if you can stomach the historicist architecture).
Each of these organisations – and many, many individual planners and urban designers – put forward compelling arguments for the ‘walkable neighbourhood’ paradigm, in the teeth of the entrenched status quo as has been eloquently put traffic engineer and urban designer Ben Hamilton-Baillie in recent articles.
Despite this welter of rational argument, the vast majority of new housing in the UK still – in my opinion – falls far short of building sustainable residential environments.
But there may be a glimmer of hope… thanks, perhaps ironically, to the credit crunch. The wonderfully eclectic and well-informed Inhabitat has just blogged about something that might just achieve where rational argument has so far failed – money. Or, in other words, oil and financed.
As Inhabitat says, the burst of the housing bubble and the peak of fossil fuel production are two factors that will inevitably wake us from a dream we simply have been reticent to shake ourselves from. If they’re right, there may be a long-term silver lining to the individual personal pain that the credit crunch is undoubtedly bringing to hard-pressed families, to borrow from Gordon Brown’s vocabulary.
That said, the difficult bit is yet to come. To give the last word to Inhabitat:
The ‘uninventing’ will be the tricky part, as we simply cannot afford to pave over what blatantly does not work, either here or on foreign shores.