Privatization is not NU

{Posted to The City Fix}

[C]ritics conflate New Urbanism with the broader but contemporaneous neoliberal trend towards privatizing space. This is perhaps understandable, but neoliberalism well predates New Urbanism by many years. The plazas or lawns surrounding Modernist office buildings, the golf courses and greenways that wrap around Houston tract houses or Arizona retirement homes, the atria of 1980s shopping malls — none of these are New Urbanist in any way, and all arguably predated New Urbanism, but all involve private governance of what would otherwise be public space.

Diggs Town is a curious example. I don’t know the specifics there, but here in Chicago, the public sector had more or less abdicated control over the common spaces within and around the buildings. Without any clear understanding of who was in charge of these spaces, they fell into deep neglect, with dire consequences. Redevelopment of these sites places a clearer boundary around such spaces, either enclosing them into the private realm of yards or creating actual parks. I’m not sure how that “privatizes governance that was not previously private” so much as assigns governance over that which was previously ungoverned.

The false notion that New Urbanist subdivisions have stricter or more nefarious homeowner covenants than conventional suburban subdivisions is an unfortunate result of Celebration — which, I might point out, has CC&Rs that are in many ways less strict than many comparable Florida golf-course PUDs.