Peter Katz: Marketing the New Urbanism
Peter Katz is a new urbanist because he cares about
many different things - including architecture and city and town planning.
"Physical design is one piece," he says. Other concerns include
health care, municipal services, education and economic development.
Currently a consultant and real estate developer based in Alexandria,
Va., near Washington, D.C., Katz has a unique blend of business experience,
including real estate development and investment, marketing, and a strong
background in the arts and architecture.
He was born in Oregon, raised in Seattle and educated in New York. Throughout
most of his career, Katz has been active in real estate matters which
have taken him to both U.S. coasts and in between - and as far away as
the Pacific Rim.
His formal education is in graphic design and architecture. He has a degree
in fine arts. He is a manager and the former (and first) executive director
of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). He is the author of an influential
book, "The New Urbanism" (McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994), and
many magazine articles. He lectures to civic and academic audiences, using
a lively presentation with lots of telling photographs about the urgency
of stopping development as usual and implementing new solutions.
Katz discovered the new urbanism movement while preparing a presentation
for a foundation that happened to own a very large piece of undeveloped
property in a rapidly developing area. While researching trends in community
design, Katz was intrigued by a Newsweek article on the work of
Miami-based architecture and community planners at the Miami-based firm,
Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company. Andrés Duany was one of the handful
of people who founded CNU.
Katz and DPZ cofounder Duany began a telephone dialogue. "Andrés
got me to describe my ideal community." Katz found that he and Duany
shared many concerns and ideals.
After that, when it came to new urbanism and new urbanists, Katz was in.
Katz is interested in achieving for new urbanism the kind of widespread
understanding and public acceptance necessary for it to make a significant
impact in the sprawl-scape that encroaches more every day on farmland,
forest and other undeveloped green space. He understands that the new
urbanism must be marketed to a spectrum of audiences in order to gain
a toehold in the development world.
He is concerned about the consequences of inaction.
His own achievements have been significant. When the CNU - a group of
architects and urban designers - came together for the first time in 1992,
Katz was present.
"I saw there was a movement there. I saw the value in what the advocates
were saying." He encouraged the early CNU organizers "to focus
on what was common among them.
"The history of . new urbanism is like a rope with many strands,"
he explains, adding that he knows some, but not all of the strands.
"The strands I know about derive from a number of different sources.
There is an East Coast (philosophical) strand . that is concerned with
the classical traditions of city making.. There is also a West Coast strand
whose practitioners seem to be a bit more focused on issues of ecological
design and regionalism.
"Another strand . includes individuals who have been designing exemplary,
small-scale infill projects in inner city locations since before the 1970s.
They were doing work of this kind long before it was called new urbanism.
"Still another strand involves those engaged at the metropolitan
scale in places like New York, Chicago and Boston during the 1980s and
"The diversity of all these varied strands hasn't hurt the overall
rope . if anything, new urbanism has become stronger for all these influences.
But the process of weaving the strands together was not without conflict."
In 1995, after the third annual meeting of the CNU, the organization's
board members asked Katz to serve for one year as its first executive
director. He agreed.
No longer a CNU official, Katz today spends a lot of time at CNU gatherings
and at the meetings of many other groups of concerned advocates of healthy
lifestyles and healthy environments, educating people about the how the
development business operates - and what other people in a demand-run
market can do to help developers broaden horizons to build healthier communities.
Katz is also concerned about the developers who claim to be building new
urbanist communities but are not. Instead of building the sort of mixed-use,
mixed-income, pedestrian-oriented blocks and neighborhoods that characterize
new urbanist development, Katz fears that developers are using the term
"new urbanist," and then essentially producing the same types
of developments that have been the norm for the last 50 years.
"This is a demand-side revolution," he says. Developers would
be happy to keep doing what they are doing.
"One group that developers are not interested in is the poor. Another
group is the aged who, today, are forced to live separate and apart from
"People who work in suburban office pods - without access to the
walkable environment - become prisoners of the office park.
"An element found in older traditional places is public realm - something
not found in suburban development.
Katz says all of those elements and others as well should be incorporated
into new urbanist standards
"Codes are the next barrier to implementing new urbanism [on a larger
scale.] With new urbanism, the public has been able to see how ridiculous
the planning process has been. New urbanism has brought physical planning
to a new level of acceptability."
Katz has a sense of urgency about him - now that the public is beginning
to see that the current planning processes have not been working in their
best interest, there is space available for new ideas. And he wants the
new urbanists to capture as much of that space as possible.
Katz says he is ready to move ahead. "I am in the business of persuading,
and I am convinced [we need more] than books," said Katz. "It
is high time to take on the marketing component in the new urbanism."
There's a long way to go, Katz says. "The new urbanism has been lax
in creating standards. They have made progress in creating the brand,
but have been lax in defining what the brand stands for."
Still, real progress has been made, says Katz. "CNU and its allies
have had a huge impact on the larger debate about the making of place,
and, one hopes, the future physical form of our communities."