Tuesday, June 16

The National Building Museum and the mainstreaming of urbanism

The Green Community exhibit at the National Building Museum has been up since last October, but I just recently had a chance to stop in and check it out. As I perused the various displays, it occurred to me that the exhibit is a highly polished and fun way to communicate much of the same things I'm hoping to explore here. According to promotional material, it's a look at "how and why we plan, design, and construct the world between our buildings." It moves beyond advocating energy efficient green building practices to examining where the buildings sit in relation to each other. It moves beyond the hybrid car solution to asking whether gains in automobile energy-efficiency may simply be offset by allowing us to drive more. I won't go into all of the details, but if you're anywhere near D.C. before October '09, I'd recommend stopping in for a quick look.

What encourages me most about this exhibit is the fact that it exists. The National Building Museum is a private institution, not a part of the Smithsonian system. It's donor list consists of many of the major professional organizations of the fields of development, architecture, and planning. A lot of the big construction firms and trade organizations also support the museum. In other words, this is neither the manifesto of some fringe group nor a subversive government plot to control the masses. It's the aspirations of mainstream development.

This is the perfect segue into an insightful post by Robert Goodspeed in Planetizen entitled, "The New Normative Planning." Goodspeed sees a subtle shift in the language used by the American Planning Association. In the past the APA, like many large organizations, opted for neutral platitudes that were likely crafted to appease the broadest range of members. However, in recent years, many of the principles of urbanism, such as mixed-use development, density, and walkable scale, have more and more been accepted as normative by the profession. It's as if Jane Jacobs, once seen as a fiery voice against the establishment, has gradually (I think she would appreciate the gradualism here) worked her way into the profession she set out to attack.

Goodspeed sees this as the beginning of a workable consenus on principles,

"Many of the values of New Urbanism are becoming the profession's mainstream values. We are entering a new era of normative urban planning in America."


LH said...

Daniel - insightful post . . . and an excellent reminder to me to get back to the National Building Museum, which I haven't been to in years and even then only in passing.

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