Calthorpe, operating worldwide, wins ULI prize

Berkeley-based planner says New Urbanism should focus more on jobs and regional planning.

Peter Calthorpe, whose urban and regional planning work now extends from American locales such as Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Austin to overseas cities such as Moscow, Kurachi, and Aqaba, is  the first architect and urban designer to win the Urban Land Institute’s J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development.
One of the small group that founded the Congress for New Urbanism in 1993, Calthorpe, 57, is to receive the prize Oct. 6 in New York. Established to honor individuals whose careers demonstrate commitment to the highest standards of responsible development, the ULI prize comes with a check for $100,000.
Calthorpe, born in England, brought up mainly in Palo Alto, California, and trained at Yale School of Architecture, formed Calthorpe Associates in 1983, building it into a Berkeley-based firm with a staff of 20. He is also a principal in Fregonese Calthorpe Associates, a 20-person firm in Portland, Oregon, that concentrates on urban and regional planning.
In an article by Trisha Riggs in the October issue of Urban Land, Calthorpe says of his work: “’For each project, I ask myself, ‘Is it diverse? Is it walkable? Does it restore and protect critical qualities? How does it interconnect and add to the region as a whole?” For years, he has focused on questions like those in domestic locations such as Portland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Salt Lake. More recently he has been giving shape to big urban regions across the globe.

Big project near Moscow airport
“We’re doing a project for about half a million people on the outskirts of Moscow,” Calthorpe told New Urban News. “There has been no major development there since the fall of the Soviet Union.” Limitless Company, an international real estate developer based in Dubai, and Coalco, a large Russian firm, are joint venture partners who will bring urbanization to 7,385 acres of undeveloped land near Domodedovo International Airport, the largest airport in Russia in number of passengers served. The land is “outside the main urban core [22 miles south of Moscow’s center], but it’s a very transit-oriented city to begin with,” Calthorpe observed, so he expects to be able to tie a future complex of mid-rise and high-rise buildings to transit — the armature of much of his work in the US.
Calthorpe said he got the Moscow assignment because, among other things, “the reputation of New Urbanism is global at this point. It’s cutting-edge. People are pretty smart on a global level. They can realize intrinsically it makes sense.” He points out, “There are a lot of new urbanists working in China and elsewhere. It’s the state of the art for urban design.”
The Moscow project may call for buildings of 20, 30, and even 40 stories, but probably they will sit on bases containing four stories of apartments. “Good urbanism calls for street-lining buildings,” Calthorpe emphasized. “You still need a four- or six-story environment of street walls, with towers that punctuate it.” The intention is to accommodate 167,000 housing units, but not in the bleak, repetitious arrangement that Russia was known for during the Communist era. Thirty-two million square feet of commercial space are anticipated in the Domodedovo undertaking.
The Moscow project will have a floor-area ratio of 13. In Kurachi, Pakistan, development will probably achieve a similar density. The height and density of projects overseas set them apart from the “absurd low density” of most development in the US, Calthorpe said. “Most of the world can’t afford a two-, three-, four-story urban vocabulary.”
In Aqaba, for Limitless, Calthorpe worked on the Red Sea/Dead Sea project abutting the Gulf of Aqaba along the Jordan-Israel border. The master plan calls for a 4,200-acre expansion of the existing city, encompassing 61,000 housing units, 920,000 square feet of commercial uses, and many hotel rooms. (Aqaba is part of Jordan’s “Golden Tourism Triangle,” the Calthorpe Associates website reports.) Town centers and urban centers are to have concentrations of employment, retail, entertainment, and recreation. Neighborhood centers, situated within a short walk of most homes, are to meet residents’ daily needs and include gathering places such as mosques, municipal services, and public facilities.
Calthorpe’s willingness to accommodate tall buildings has placed him at odds with some new urbanists who think good city form involves buildings — at least for residential use — that are no more than a few stories high. “I was deeply distressed to be on a CNU jury last year where I had to debate whether high-rise is part of the new urbanist lexicon,” he said. “There are parts of the world where high-rises are an urban tradition. An elevator is the most efficient transit system anyone has devised.”
Calthorpe has long been more interested in shaping an entire region and bringing substantial employment centers into a mixed-use, transit-supporting urban pattern than in designing individual buildings or refining the details of residential neighborhoods. In a phone interview with New Urban News, he said the newsletter and CNU ought to make regional planning a higher priority. While paying close attention to neighborhood development, “we’ve taken our eyes off the jobs,” Calthorpe said of the new urbanist movement as a whole. “Creating a jobs-housing balance is important, especially when creating greenfield development.”
One place where Calthorpe anticipates plenty of employment as well as extensive housing development is in Mesa Del Sol, a 7,350-acre project in Albuquerque, which he’s been involved in laying out for Forest City Enterprises. “Mesa Del Sol is the first project where we get to build a village center first,” with offices over retail, among other ingredients, he said. “Job creation is moving faster than housing,” he said.
Culver Studios in the Los Angeles area is “moving 80 percent of its production capacity to Albuquerque” and will inject a lot of energy into Mesa Del Sol, enabling commercial development to proceed quickly, he said. The concept plan for Mesa Del Sol calls for an eventual 18 million square feet of commercial space.
In Calthorpe’s view, New Urbanism too often is about neighborhoods but not about employment or regional goals. “We ought to have criteria for greenfield development,” he contends. New urbanist greenfield projects, he contends, should be “within an urban growth boundary or adjacent to a transit system or have a jobs-housing mix.”

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