Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Peter Calthorpe and the New Urbanism in China (Dispatch from CNU 20 – Pt. 2)

Dateline: 10:35 am May 11, 2012 Filed under:

Peter Calthorpe addressed a Friday morning audience at CNU20 in West Palm Beach.

The rise of the Chinese middle class today is very different than the rise of the American middle class in the 1950s, and the impact on land use is immense. For one, it is sixteen stories instead of two! That is one of the many observations by Peter Calthorpe when presenting his work in China. If CNU doesn’t pay attention to China and offer part of the solution to land use decisions as the country rapidly urbanizes, “we are asleep at the wheel,” according to Calthorpe.

In truth, there are similarities and differences. America has suburbanized in a one-mile square pattern of separated land uses divided by arterials. China’s most recent version of urbanization also divides areas of their cities in to single-use superblocks divided by large roadways. The similarities largely end there, but the result is a rapidly increasing rate of automobile use, a glaring problem given the scale of urbanization and pollution there.

A number of cities are using regional planning principles by Calthorpe Associates to guide land use decisions. These plans are familiar to many new urbanists, using 150-meter blocks, paired couplet roadways not exceeding four lanes, and density focused around subway stations. Plans show a granular mixing of uses, which will encourage walking. This is critical so the tens and hundreds of millions of new city dwellers do not need to drive. In fact, China is considering a national policy of capping the modal split of automobile trips at 20% (it is now at 12%).

Certainly opportunities abound in China. Growth is occurring, and planning for that growth is critical to not only building better cities but minimizing their carbon footprint for the sake of the planet. My big question is what the public process is like for Calthorpe and others. I sense that charrettes, the bread and butter of new urbanists, are not necessarily part of the process.

Follow CNU 20 on Twitter at #cnu20.

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