Punk Rock and the New Urbanism: Getting back to basics

By the early to mid 1970s, something was wrong with rock and roll.

It no longer fought the system. Worse than that, it had become the system. Bloated. Detached. Pretentious.

Performer and audience, once fused in a mutual quest to stick it to the man, now existed on separate planes —  an increasingly complacent generation sucked into the service of pomp and circumstance. And the shared experience of joyful rebellion? Replaced by pompous, weed-soaked, middle-earth mysticism.

Rock and roll needed to get back to basics. What country pioneer Harlan Howard characterized as “three chords and the truth.” Enter punk rock.

New Urbanism Wins the War

Missing the connection to urbanism? Stick with me. What sent me down this metaphorical rabbit hole were mounting suggestions that the war for America’s built future is over. And New Urbanism won.

My colleague, Howard Blackson, said as much in a recent blog post. But the most compelling evidence can be found in just about any municipal comp plan from anywhere in the U.S. Even ones written by people who’ve never even heard of the New Urbanism or, better yet, consider it some sort of threat to our sovereign liberty.

Take a look inside at the concepts being adopted and the words employed to describe them. Town and neighborhood centers. Walkability. Mixed-use. Form. Housing diversity. Transportation choice.

Not only is that the new language of livability, it’s also the gospel New Urbanists have been preaching for over a quarter century — now embraced everywhere you look as normative planning practice. That makes us the de facto victor in the battle for hearts and minds, even as it deprives us of our long-imagined, flag-planting, told-ya-so moment bringing the war to a poetic close.

Inch by inch, it just sort of happened. But now comes the aftermath. New Urbanists who built careers fighting the system are presently waking up to find that the new system is, well, us.

And all of a sudden, our roundabouts might as well be “Roundabout.”

20/20 Hindsight

I think I was on this charrette...

We should have seen it coming. In the glory days of the housing boom, developer charrettes were akin to Led Zep’s Boeing 720 “Starship” (minus the groupies and drugs, as far as I know). Luxury, comfort, and every creative whim not only welcomed but celebrated.

Ouch. In that context, our frequent argument over whether to code something four stories or five, despite a market that may never support more than a story or two, suddenly takes on the overreaching tones of an eight minute guitar solo.

And our greenfield TNDs? While certainly beautiful, functional and neighborly, many remained so connected to auto-intensive patterns of commuting and consumption that, in retrospect, they were the creative equivalent of a free-form jazz exploration in front of a festival crowd.

Santana Row. Beautiful, but can we build it in the future?

Finally, there’s our master planned town center development schemes which, like Genesis’ “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,” dutifully satiated our desire to be entertained at a grand scale. But all too often, behind the curtain, were balance sheets so bloated that fostering the incubation of small business start ups or service sector housing, the bedrock of sustainable economics, remained flat-out impossible.

Yes, those plans reflected the optimistic tenor of the times — not to mention the evolution of the century’s most influential design movement — but they were also the beginning of the end. Call it New Urbanism’s operatic collaboration with the London Philharmonic.

Where’s punk rock when you need it?

Anarchy in the NU. Chuck Marohn, Bruce Tolar, Bob Gibbs, and Sid, still lacking on the bass.

Meet the New Boss

As it turns out, it’s been kicking around the underground for a while now. A new breed of back-to-basics urban troubadours, banging out songs of incremental infill, architectural temperance, sustainable economics, and design tuned to humans across the social spectrum. Here are three:

Bruce Tolar, New Urbanism’s Joey Ramone

Like Joey Ramone, Bruce Tolar is shaggy haired and roughly 20 feet tall yet, despite that, friendly and unthreatening. An architect in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, we’ve written about his work before, here and here, but the Cliff Notes version is this: Bruce participated in the post-Katrina Mississippi Renewal Forum, where the idea of the Katrina Cottage was born, and has since gone on to be one of the most active, put-yer-money-where-yer-mouth-is champions of small scale, cottage infill as a catch-all solution for workforce housing, business incubation, and aging-in-place.

Cottage Square, the embodiment of his ideas, speaks a particular brand of truth because it emerged organically over time. “Some people collect stamps,” he explains. “I collect cottages.”

The Cottages at Oak Park, adjacent and connected to
Bruce Tolar's Cottage Square.

Through a combination of strategy, good fortune and happenstance, a slew of the movement’s proof-of-concept cottages, 14 in all, have come to reside on Tolar’s property. The original MRF Cusato Cottage that debuted at the 2006 International Builders Show in Orlando. The Lowes kit cottage. Two from the Mouzon Katrina Cottages collection. The DPZ cottage. Even a row of MEMA emergency houses. Together they form a modest, infill proto-neighborhood of both commercial and residential structures, walking distance from primary conveniences and a short bus or bike ride to the finest downtown on the Mississippi coast.

More importantly, they’ve also proved scalable, having since inspired an adjacent development of another 30, now fully occupied, rental units. All in all, over 40 cottages occupy the lush, four acre site.

While not necessarily tearing down the walls of the establishment, Tolar’s efforts expose an exciting and empowering alternative to the conventional wisdom of the old guard — that workforce housing is housing of last resort; that it can’t be desirable when produced at a reasonable cost; that it can’t add aesthetic and economic value to a community; that it has to be concentrated on a large scale; that it can’t be integrated with existing development; and that people won’t downsize by choice. Given the right options, they will. Happily.

Chuck Marohn, New Urbanism’s Ian Mackaye

A self-described “recovering engineer,” Chuck Marohn is on a mission. Like Ian Mackaye, he compels people — or, in this case, towns of people — to take ownership of their inherent value, follow their own path, steer clear of destructive behaviors, and become more of what they’re capable of becoming.

Some people find the blunt edge of his truth unsettling. He doesn’t care.

In his own words, here’s what’s driving him: “The American approach to growth is causing economic stagnation and decline along with land use practices that force a dependency on public subsidies. The inefficiencies of the current approach have left American towns financially insolvent, unable to pay even the maintenance costs of their basic infrastructure. A new approach that accounts for the full cost of growth is needed to make our towns strong again.”

Like parenting, his work requires tough love and the ability to tell people things they instinctively do not want to hear. It garners scores of fans for Strong Towns, the nonprofit advisory he runs from Saint Paul, Minnesota, but it can also get him in hot water. Turns out, pointing out that the emperor is wearing no clothes is an often thankless business.

Last month, Marohn was on a tear about development patterns, contrasting the economic performance and future potential of two blocks in his hometown — one with traditional, pedestrian-oriented, small lot urbanism; the other with an auto-oriented fast food franchise. There was no soppy lamenting of lost memories, no touchy-feely boosterism of “community.” There were only numbers. Numbers that don’t lie.

Long story short, the idea that we’re achieving economic gains through auto-friendly strip development is a fallacy. Instead, we’re signing our own death warrant.

Such revelations alone are enough to encourage some folks to insert their heads comfortably back in the sand, but Marohn was just getting started. He followed things up with this post taking easy aim at the consulting profession still happily suckling at the teet of delusional municipal aspirations. To him, it’s akin to professional malpractice.

You can’t stop him. He doesn’t want to help cities thrive. He needs to. Exposing the Growth Ponzi Scheme while pushing models of scale and form proven to endure without bankrupting the places we purport to care about, he doesn’t pander to his audiences. He confronts them.

It ain’t pretty, but the truth rarely is.

Bob Gibbs, New Urbanism’s Joe Strummer

Joe Strummer had a gift for taking aim at the system and helping people see how it wasn’t always ideal for helping them be who they wanted to be. His mantra, “The Future is Unwritten,” summarized his belief that, ultimately, things will be whatever we make of them. That we have it within our power to change our apparent destiny. To change systems.

That kind of describes retail guru Bob Gibbs.

The author of the recently published Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development Bob takes those schooled in conventional retail and reorients them for an urban future. He’s a sensei. A mythbuster. But most importantly, he’s grounded in the reality of what people want.

Bob knows our economic gravy train has ground to a screeching halt, perhaps permanently. In response, he scours our built past — when we lived in traditional, urban communities with comparatively less wealth — for models to guide the present.

He doesn’t so much seek to destroy the system as he does to subvert it in a quest for better outcomes. Here’s a dose of his pragmatism, taken from a previous interview:

“We need to make it as easy or easier to develop in city centers. Developers made the mistake of thinking that town centers had to be complicated with lots of ornamentation – fountains, clock towers, paving. Santana Row was $400-500/SF to build, requiring $40-50 rents (per foot). It’s unsustainable. They didn’t appreciate the value of urbanism. When you’re passing a strip center, you’re passing it at 40-50 MPH, so they have to make them attention getting. When experiencing urbanism on foot, it’s totally a different animal.

New Urbanism got this tag that it was more expensive to build than conventional retail. So most developers think that good urbanism is twice as expensive. Terry Shook, for example, is really good at building town centers that are the same price or less than conventional: $60/SF for office buildings that are really beautiful, while others were paying $120/SF for the shell. All four sides of the building don’t have to be brick, and it doesn’t have to have a slate roof.

If you look at great cities, when they were peaking in the 40’s and 50’s, they were simple. Great placemaking, good squares, places between the buildings were beautiful. Even street trees were rare. The older buildings in Winter Park’s Park Avenue or in Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue in Florida are often 1-story, $60/SF buildings.

Palm Beach. 1-story. Built for roughly sixty bucks a square foot. Image credit: Bob Gibbs.

Cities can redevelop themselves by going back to the 20’ x 60’ lot, and selling them to small entrepreneurs who can build their own. Instead of waiting for someone who can build a $60 million project, the city can replat to the smaller lots, and sell under $50,000 each, then smaller businesses through sweat equity can build their own stores. Rosemary and part of Seaside were built this way. The only part of Rosemary that got in trouble was the large hotel, which went through a few bankruptcies. It’s a very good post-recession model. Instead of taking out a large note to build an Easton Town Center, build the streets and squares, and let the rest occur incrementally, on a small scale, as the market will bear.”

It’s Now or Never

The bloat of the housing boom is over. We’re living in a different era now — an era of new economic realities — and the relevance of the planning and development trades depends on their — our — ability to get back to the basics of urban growth and development.

It’s happening. The torchbearers profiled here reflect something real and growing and I encourage you to become a part of it. Of course, I’d never be so presumptuous as to speak on their behalf, but my gut tells me their response would go a little something like this:

Gabba gabba we accept you we accept you one of us!

–Scott Doyon

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  1. Very interesting analysis – development ideas and punk rock sensibility – compare and contrast… two concepts I had never related to each other, but it does make sense.

    What do you think of the comparison of punk rock’s – “We can do this ourselves” as in starting out as a garage band and learning as you go along compared to the idea of letting urban areas grow and develop with as little high-level control as possible – allowing growth and development to occur organically?

  2. You’re speaking my language, Bill. Just as punk’s DIY spirit needed the helping hand of CBGBs and a 1,000 other dives to “execute,” so to speak, I fully support Bob Gibbs’ recommendation for cities and towns to “provide a stage” by taking blocks that have been consolidated into large parcels and replatting them with traditional urban lots, allowing for a subsequent variety of small entrepreneurs to develop incrementally at a rate the market will bear.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. the nexus of planning and punk rock:

  4. Dean Gunderson says

    The parallel is a bit deeper. Punk Rock (and its association with the avant garde art scene of the East Village) cleaved away the pretense of the proscenium (the separation between performer and audience). In strictly urban terms, it retook the Village Square from the ersatz “public” suburban space of parking lots and shopping mall food courts. Santana Row is an urban failure not because it cost an “unsustainable” amount to construct, but because it isn’t a truly PUBLIC space — if you don’t believe me try and lay down a blanket to hawk your own goods, or stand up on a table next to the Human-sized chess court and read a political tract. From this perspective, what something costs is irrelevant — what is sustainable is whatever people are willing to construct and support. One of the most expensive (per square foot) constructed environments on the planet is the necropolis pyramid complex at Giza — yet it “survived” as the vibrant core of a civilization that spanned nearly 5,000 years. What matters is what people are willing to support — trying to push this through an economic formula is akin to saying that Sid Vicious or Joey Ramone were in-it-for-the-money. If New Urbanism is to truly “win” the war — it will be due to an expressed desire to re-christen public space as truly public. This would be public space in which people truly desire to be, in which they want to engage in exchanges (debate, protests, impromptu financial exchanges, etc.), and which meets their expectations of beauty (which in a way will sacralize their exchanges).

  5. John Anderson says

    I wanna be sedated as much as the next guy, but the punk rock analogy falls flat for me. Bruce, Chuck, and Bob are accomplished artisans doing worthy work that will last. -a significant cut above punk.

  6. Clearly no disagreement here about Bruce, Chuck, and Bob, John. If there were, we’d have no need to invest a couple thousand words in lauding them.

    Granted, that still leaves a lingering disagreement over the comparison, but, hey, my take is that dismantling an established order and permanently redirecting the practice and culture of popular music is none too shabby an achievement. “Worthy work” is in the earbud of the beholder.

  7. Alex Lawrey says

    New Urbanism is anything but the punk rock of civic design, its a muted, disneyfied yuppietopian nightmare, an absolute joke, still as it comes out of America that is hardly surprising. Punk was born in Britain, it was a product of municipalism, council estates, concrete flyovers and a bad rendition of Corbusian aesthetics

  8. All well and good, Alex, except the post doesn’t actually equate New Urbanism to punk rock. It simply profiles three urbanists currently subverting the status quo, and embodying an ethos akin to certain pioneers from the early punk movement.

  9. Dean Gunderson says

    Alex, a more accurate statement regarding the origin of Punk Rock — is that it was a reactionary response to Sprawl (“municipalism, council estates, concrete flyovers and a bad rendition of Corbusian aesthetics”). In a way, punk (its practitioners and, more importantly, it audience) was/is a social movement born out of the social malaise of the Suburban Subdivision.

    This is not dissimilar to the Origin Myth of New Urbanism (the traditional neighborhood design movement), with its reaction against (specifically) Corbusian aesthetics, Freeways (and their dependent dendritic road network system), and Conventional Suburban Development.

    But it has its downsides too, its penchant for letting itself be abused by developers who wish to make no more than Potemkin Villages of fake urbanism — being its chief weakness. But, the same allegation can be made of Punk Rock. Here’s Henry Rollins’ take on this subject, and his laser-like take on “selling out”:


    So the real question (to quote H. Rollins) is, “So what, you’re not a f*ing moron are ya? You see through that don’t ya?”

    We have the capacity to parse the difference between selling out (a.k.a. Santana Row) and originality (sustainable urban development).

  10. glad that my response garnered further responses, but as Orson Welles said of Switzerland’s 500 years of peace, brotherly love and cuckoo clocks…
    punk was not really a product of suburbia, the Clash, Sex Pistols, the Damned etc were inner city London bands, the same inner city that is now being cleansed of old fashioned modernist council estates, all in the name of a mantra remarkably similar to New Urbanism, soon enough the poor and working classes of London will be like their counterparts in Paris, confined to the extra-urban margins. High density modernism might have had its problems but the alternatives just do not stack-up, they quite literally do not stack-up, and the cottages praised in this post are reminiscent of either cottage orne, or worse the Nazi’s favoured Heimatstil, what is wrong with high density, multi-storey urbanism? In New York it produced Grand Master Flash, in London punk rock, I would be interested to see what sort of music emerges from New Urbanism, the anodyne sound of the cuckoo clock perhaps

  11. Thanks for the exchange, Alex. I don’t think anyone’s asserting an aversion to high densities, at least not here. But I do get the sense that you’re arguing both sides of the issue. On the one hand, you’re pushing the importance of context (in that The Clash, et al, did not emerge arbitrarily but were a product of London’s inner city), yet denying the importance of context in suggesting that cottages are an inappropriate solution for somewhere like the Mississippi Gulf coast. To me, just as a cottage solution for downtown London might seem silly, high density towers make little sense — economic or otherwise — in small coastal towns.

    The cottage effort praised here in this post is singled out because it solves a problem in context. As do the other efforts shown.

    As Urbanists, we must embrace and contend with complexity and diversity. That’s neither a promotion nor critique of any individual development proposal (in London or anywhere else). It’s just a requirement of the job. Blanket statements of what works and what doesn’t fail to meet the challenge.

  12. Beautifully and cleverly written — Thank you!

  13. Alex Lawrey says

    re: Dean Gunderson, and accuracy !!
    “…a more accurate statement regarding the origin of Punk Rock — is that it was a reactionary response to Sprawl (“municipalism, council estates, concrete flyovers and a bad rendition of Corbusian aesthetics”). In a way, punk (its practitioners and, more importantly, it audience) was/is a social movement born out of the social malaise of the Suburban Subdivision….”

    ‘Sprawl’ is not the same as ‘municipalism, council estates, concrete flyovers and ..Corbusian aesthetics’, that is a definition of high density modernism in places like Notting Hill in west London (the birth place of the Clash and many other punk bands), Notting Hill is very far from suburbia and suburban sprawl. In the 1930s there was a book called ‘England and the Octopus’ which described the process of sprawl with developments along road networks, these tended to be semi-detached ‘Tudorbethan’ houses, all very similar in design, the kind of style that was heavily criticised by George Orwell, basically ‘sprawl’ is the abiding characteristic of British suburbia, and (as a broad generalisation), there are no flyovers, tower blocks or much evidence of multi-storey council housing (although cottage style council estates are common in sub-urban settings such as the Wythenshaw estate outside of Manchester). Whilst new urbanism might or might not be a reactionary response to sprawl, punk certainly was not, neither its practitioners nor its audience. Punk also developed its own form of urbanism, namely the squatting movement which tended to colonise empty properties in inner city locations, in places like the east-end of London or in West Berlin next to the Wall. What is interesting to note is that in the 1980s developers showed little interest in working in these sorts of areas but after a place was squatted and its potential was realised developers leapt in, Amsterdam witnessed a comparable phenomena.
    My point however in criticising ‘New urbanism’ is that it has singularly failed to do any of the things it has set out to achieve, walkability is simply not happening, the residents of new urban settlements commute to jobs, usually some distance from their yuppietopian homes, these ideal towns are socially exclusive, us low income mortals cannot afford your ideal-living prices and the pernicious effect of the ‘New Urbanism’ ethos is that old urbanism -modernism- is seen as being evil, bad living, hence the destruction of council estates in Britain and ‘the projects’ in America. If you want to cleanse the poor and provide ideal commuter homes then New Urbanism is great, otherwise it can go to hell in a handcart…
    Marie Antionette ‘collected cottages’, didnt do her much good

  14. stevedavis78 says

    I would just suggest that anyone who thinks that Joey Ramone, Ian Mackaye, Joe Strummer and Sid Vicious weren’t “accomplished artisans doing worthy work that will last” should probably just enjoy those Lawrence Welk records while having their head examined. 🙂

  15. well done…

    but i caution that without careful adherence to what it means to stick to an ethos, it’s more than possible that the new idea becomes co-opted and the nonsense begins again (albeit wearing an “anarchy now” tee shirt and Dockers khakis). punk fizzled out and became a great genre as opposed to the norm because it couldn’t get out of it’s own set of ideals that became almost as repressive and bloated as what it was rebelling against.

    buildings and new urbanism need to do the same. borrow from the sensibility of punk, but not slip back into the overwrought bloatedness of buildings and planning that got us into this mess in the first place.

    • Alex Lawrey says

      Whilst this is an interesting and seemingly provocative article the problem with it is that the author doesn’t know his history, either of punk or of urbanism and planning. Punk, at least in a British context although the same is true for bands like the New York Dolls (clue is in the name), was a product of place and that was a resolutely inner-city place, there were exceptions of suburban (the Lurkers from Ilford) and rural (the Mob from Dorset/Somerset) varieties, but they were the exceptions. Punk needed overcrowded urban settings not lonely moors with daffodils blowing in the breeze. Punk was intrinsically part of old urbanism.
      …had the author just got his punk metaphors wrong would be one thing but then he also seems to be unaware of planning history, witness this statement:
      “…the conventional wisdom of the old guard — that workforce housing is housing of last resort; that it can’t be desirable when produced at a reasonable cost; that it can’t add aesthetic and economic value to a community; that it has to be concentrated on a large scale…”

      infact ‘workforce housing’ was often anything but that of ‘last resort’, Port Sunlight near to Liverpool was a ‘village’ built (circa 1890s-1920) to house the workers from the Sunlight soap factory by Lord Leverhulme (founder of Lever Brothers), he also financed the Civic Design department at the University of Liverpool (my old department..) which was the world’s first town and country planning school. Port Sunlight, and similar industrial/philanthropic housing schemes (Saltaire, Bournville, Pullmantown, etc) lead the way in terms of ideal housing produced generally cheaply but with good planning, ‘space and light’ greenery etc. Unregulated housing development by speculators was substandard but housing for specific workforces tended to be of an exceptionally good standard, even when as in Silver End, it was built using company-only materials (glass and iron-framed windows at Silver End as it was an iron framed window factory..).

      anyway old punks tend to become not gamekeeper-planners but poacher-property developers, as has Johnny Rotten (AKA John Lydon) of Sex Pistols fame, who makes a lot more from building than he ever did from singing…

  16. Alex, if your suggestion is that an article about specific American urbanists addressing specific U.S. challenges displays an ignorance of punk and planning as they’ve played out in England then I don’t suppose I can take much issue with ya. Though I’m unclear why it’s relevant.

    However, if you feel context is irrelevant and that Americans should be solving their urban economic challenges based on what’s happened or is happening in the UK, then I disagree.

    It’s an open forum though so, if you feel an insatiable urge to hold a narrative hook comparing ethos with action to the scrutiny of English lore then, hey, have at it.

    • Alex Lawrey says

      OK fair point Scott, however you did initially cite English musical history (with some exceptions..the Ramones etc) from led Zep and genesis through to Joe Strummer Sid Vicous etc, I guess I took affront as I did a paper about punk/urbanism and psychogeography recently, so I guess its a comparison I am familiar with, and your views seem chintzy and sweet but have little to do with a punk urban aesthetic or sensibility. You are no doubt right about places in America needing flat pack cottages although I would have thought in somewhere like New Orleans not building on a flood plain would be the planners choice, the Dutch dont seem to have learnt that lesson either mind you. In a sense the sort of low cost, instant build urbanism you are talking about is like the punk DIY ethic, infill developments are comparable to DIY record labels, fanzines and squatted music venues, but and I guess you have sort of made this point already in your article, New Urbanism for all its worthy talk of walkability, communities and the like has ended up being about creating cute commuter dormitory towns, its not very ‘urban’ and certainly doesnt deal with old urban forms, with pre-existing cities. In a country like yours with lots of space, at least lots of extra-urban space, this is not such an issue as in the UK, Holland, Israel and many other places but in the end the reason why you are arguing that say a tower block is an in-appropriate solution in a coastal town on the Missisipi delta is that it has been deemed so because of aesthetic judgements and such like, value judgements, cottages for cute coastal towns, tower blocks for hard edged cities. Cottages could be used in inner-city Camden, London and 50 storey tower blocks could be used in a seaside city like Brighton, infact sometimes they are. As trends are towards significant global population increases, and greater urbanism cottages are liable to be in-appropriate in most cases and old fashioned urbanism, high density modernism, is liable to be the future, except for the very rich and the very rare cases of people who bought property in a low density environment a long time ago. There is a need for a new (old modernist) urbanism unless we consign the majority of the population to slums.
      In the 1980s as a young punk I went to the Stonehenge free festival and lived in a tent for a couple of weeks, in 21st century America tent cities are becoming all too familiar, meanwhile thanks to fools like Jane Jacobs high density (not unproblematic..) modernism has been rejected. Its alright living in a tent for two weeks as a 19 year old punk having a nice time at a festival its a different matter for someone raising a family as a permanent solution

  17. Alex Lawrey says

    the reason why this possibly matters is that Hurricane Katrina destroyed virtually an entire city overnight, it was like the Khmer Rouge emptying Phnom Penh. Why did a flood destroy a city? Because cottage style solutions were in place, building low density housing, taking up vast amounts of space, utilising former mangrove swamps and with nowhere for the deluge to go except into people’s homes. Had New Orleans been a compact, multi-storey city then there would not have been the need to drain the swamps for detached, cottage-style housing developments, less land would have been used far more effectively, and much of the flooding could have been avoided, so whilst I maybe a bit Anglo-centric its more a case of being risk averse when it comes to realistic threats like flooding, cottages are no ‘catch-all’ solution they are infact the problem

  18. Alex Lawrey says

    ..and Scott one very last comment, (its nothing personal and a mightily amusing ‘soapbox’ this), the American planning system tends to be over-prescriptive about things like zoning but beyond that it might as well not exist, if you got the dosh generally you can build it, the British system is far less concerned with zoning but often over-prescriptive about what is built, mixed usage is theoretically much more likely in the British system (maybe not in terms of reality though.. but thats another story)
    Clearly both have their advantages and disadvantages but the wider point is that low density living is something historical, low density means suburbia, the product of cars and a late Victorian escape-from-the-city to a pastoral hinterland sensibility, as infact medieval towns grew up organically and were usually very high density. The fashion for high and low density comes and goes. Now it could be said that perhaps the majority of the world’s cities are on floodplains or will be below sea level after significant global warming, therefore something more radical than ready-assembly cottages is needed, for a start recognising that we need to build on higher ground (as your Stevie Wonder sang so beautifully) and we need to stop thinking that land is an infinite resource, I would agree that infill is part of the solution, however cottages, in most cases, are not

  19. Whoa…., now that’s a thread!

    i’m tired just reading it all. but my small contribution to this highly interesting discussion is this from foreignpolicy.com. over the past years they’ve done an amazing job of putting together lists of how growth in cities will shift and change both politics and resource consumption. not too many cottages here, but i bet the next Iggy Pop or Mick Jones is tuning up a guitar within one of these confines.


  20. Danny Le says

    I have had this story pinned on my browser for over a year now….since then, do you still have the same sentiment for new urbanism and the back-to-basics-DIY ethos of punk culture?

    For me I appreciate the ideal that are articulated in the New Urbanism movement, however, don’t you find that the actual practice in real life tends to be monotonous in design; crowd out affordable housing; and redirects a cities’ resources from poverty alleviation to attractive amenities.

  21. Danny Le says

    after all ‘punk is fucking dead’ after it got absorbed by the mainstream. It became overexposed and prospectors commodified its lifestyle. The anti-est became the established and maybe now the time is ripe for some new models of city development to challenged the established.

  22. PlaceMakers says

    Interested in digging deeper into the cottage cottage culture? Check out these webinar conversations with Ben Brown and Bruce Tolar and also with Bruce Tolar and Ross Chapin. Or just want to get tactical? Mike Lydon has your number.


  1. […] read a great article by Scott Doyon called “Punk Rock and the New Urbanism: Getting back to basics.” The article […]

  2. […] things that need subsidies. Scott Doyon talked about that a couple of weeks ago, in his piece about punk urbanism. To explore further, I reconnected with one of Scott’s anti-rock stars, Bob […]

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