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VOL. 3, NO. 1 -- DECEMBER 2000

University Seeks Insight Into New Urbanism

By Stu Sirota

The University of Maryland at College Park, one of a growing number of architecture and planning schools beginning to embrace traditional neighborhood design, recently hosted a five-part lecture series entitled, "New Urbanism: Past, Present and Future." Prominent architects and town planners from around the country came to present their ideas to enthusiastic audiences consisting of students, faculty and practicing professionals. All attendees brought their own unique perspectives on the importance of new urbanism and presented examples of how they are employing these principles in their work.

John Torti, of Torti Gallas and Partners ˇ CHK, Inc. in Silver Spring, Md., kicked off the series by describing his firm's metamorphasis from conventional designers of suburban sprawl to champion of new urbanism. He painted a compelling picture of how suburban sprawl has engulfed the landscape and blurred the distinction between town and country. He focused on his firm's guiding principles of providing ways to repair the damage done by sprawl and highlighted several recent accomplishments. Several projects he highlighted included work on Celebration, Fla., and King Farm, Md., and development of a traditional town planning code for Albermarle County, Va.

Jaquelin (Jack) Robertson, a former New York City planning director and now a principal at Cooper Robertson and Partners of New York, provided further perspective on how sprawl has damaged not only the American landscape, but society itself, and urged young architects and planners to challenge themselves to do better than the previous generation. He presented highlights of his firm's work on Celebration as well as on Watercolor, Fla, which is currently being developed adjacent to Seaside.

Also part of the series was Andrés Duany, of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company in Miami, Fla. One of the leading founders of the new urbanism and perhaps the most well known, Duany engaged the audience with a wide array of topics, from the difficulty he has experienced in reaching out to environmentalists to a discussion on a new land use classification system. Called the Transect, the new system allows the creation of traditional neighborhoods within the full continuum of urban to rural settings.

Stephanos Polyzoides, co-founder of Moule & Polyzoides Architects in Los Angeles, Calif., provided an enlightening perspective of new urbanism in the Southwest region and in Southern California. He presented case studies showing how his firm is working to create unique and inviting places while making efficient use of renewable resources and climate and preserving sensitive ecosystems. Included was his firm's work on the design of Civano, a new town outside Tucson, Ariz., downtown redevelopment plans for Los Alamos and Albuquerque, N.M.; and several transit-oriented development projects in Oakland and Pasadena, Calif.

Finally, Ray Gindroz, founder of Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, presented the inner city perspective of new urbanism. His firm has been instrumental in designing replacements for failed federal public housing projects with new neighborhoods in Chicago, Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore. He underscored the need to work with communities to develop a vision and plan for reconnecting community with place.

It was inspiring to see these influential leaders reach out to students and young professionals who themselves will eventually wield great influence over our natural and built environment for generations to come. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive crowd reactions, a promising and hopeful future may very well emerge.