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New Urbanism


The concept of 'New Urbanism' is an urban design movement that emerged in the United States during the early 1980s. Its goal is to reform many aspects of real estate development, including most notably urban sprawl. New urbanism is centered on compact growth models that emphasize vertical rather than horizontal patterns of development thus diminishing the impact of urban sprawl. In this way urban sprawl is controlled because more land is preserved through what is referred to as urban and suburban 'in-fill'. The term "in-fill" refers to the use of land within a built-up area that can be used for further development and focuses on reusing underutilized buildings and spaces. New urbanism proposes compact building designs featuring a diverse range of affordable housing, efficient transportation, walkability and denser populations.

New urbanism emerged in Canada as a design and planning movement in the early 1990s. Municipal governments, as a means of reducing annual expenses, proposed developing neighbourhoods based on mixed land use patterns - residential and commercial properties coexisting in the same geographical area. Doing so would begin to reverse the costly automobile-dependent suburban trend. New urbanism also evolved at a point in time when local governments began investing in the revitalization of central business districts as crime levels decreased and people desired to return to the downtown core. As a result, a general trend towards vertical development reemerged within the central business district. In the city, money and resources were shifted into inner city areas in an effort to encourage urban growth and in-fill. New urbanism focuses on developed and well-established neighbourhoods. As a result, less agricultural land has to be converted into new suburban developments. Adhering to new urbanism concepts, suburban areas develop more compactly and increase population densities thus reducing land use.

Proponents of new urbanism state the following benefits:

  • Gives cities a sense of identity
  • Benefits cities economically
  • Environmentally responsible
  • Provides settings for centrally located cultural activities

Numerous scholars have suggested that development costs significantly decrease under compact growth models. Urban sprawl can accrue significant costs in infrastructure development (sewers, water, electricity, roads, etc.), which is why municipal governments have began to consider development models based on new urbanism. For example, fiscal deficits have been cited as 10% lower in neighborhoods designed according to the concepts behind new urbanism because of more efficient use of existing services in built-up areas. Keep in mind that a core component to new urbanism is the reuse of underutilized buildings and spaces. In addition, fiscal deficits generally increase in suburban areas due to insufficient levels of profit garnered from property taxes in low population density areas.

Row Housing

Edmonton's City Council has considered adopting the concept of new urbanism in an effort to revitalize the city. In 2004, City Council passed the 'Smart Choice Program' that stressed the importance of compact growth in both urban and suburban areas. The Smart Choice Program focuses on:

  • Neighbourhood reinvestment
  • Residential infill in older neighbourhoods
  • Transit oriented development, and
  • Walkability

Edmonton's downtown core has been subject to compact growth expansion predominantly in the areas of public spaces, retail and housing. This is evident through such projects as the renovation of Churchill Square, the development of various grocery stores such as Sobey's (accommodates residential living) and, the erection of residential high rises. Moreover, Edmonton's suburban communities have experienced residential 'in-fills'. City Council, for example, has approved the 'Strathearn Heights Redevelopment Project', which calls for the construction of affordable high rise residential buildings in an older and well-developed neighbourhood.

Finally, development based on new urbanism has various societal benefits as it is argued that more compact development leads to vibrant, diverse and cost-effective communities. Denser communities support small shops, public spaces, feature efficient transit systems, and, therefore produce increased property values. Suburban areas, on the other hand, tend to generate high levels of traffic in concentrated areas, entail strip mall development and have less open space. In a sense, compact growth, brings a community closer together through diverse housing, varied employment opportunities and its walkability.

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