Hot topics: access, codes, libertarians, and Modernism

• The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU XII) in late June in Chicago hosted a session, The Coming Demand, which examined an “increasing demand for accessible and visitable housing and neighborhoods.” Accessibility/visitability advocates also staged a respectful protest at CNU, voicing concern that new urbanists are ignoring their needs by designing, among other things, private residences with elevated first floors and steps at the entrances. CNU established a work group including architects Ray Gindroz and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and advocate Eleanor Smith “to explore what accessibility advocates and new urbanists can learn from each other,” said CNU chief executive John Norquist. The demand that all new housing include zero-step entrances sparked heated debate on PRO-URB, the urbanist online discussion group, after the Congress. The topic will be “revisited” in a coming issue of New Urban News.

• Randal O’Toole, a libertarian critic of New Urbanism, took part in a debate with new urbanists at CNU. Some participants in the debate pointed out potential common ground between new urbanists and libertarians, primarily in their mutual dislike for current zoning laws. Yet the debate also highlighted a substantial divide between the two groups. O’Toole contended that zoning decisions should be made solely by immediate neighbors in groups of no more than 150 people, a recommendation that some attendees feared would lead to rule by NIMBYs. During the question and answer period the most fiery comments came from William Lind, of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, who compared what he called the locally tailored plans of new urbanists to the universal solutions offered by O’Toole libertarians. “New Urbanism is grounded in reality and the other [O’Toole’s brand of libertarianism] is based on ideology, and this will be a hard gulf to cross,” he said.

• A new book on zoning reform, Codifying New Urbanism: How to Reform Municipal Land Development Regulations, was jointly released by CNU and the American Planning Association (Planning Advisory Service Report Number 526). It became instantly popular as the first book devoted solely to advising planners and public officials on how to adopt NU-friendly codes.

• Chicago, the city of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Ludwig Hilberseimer, two products of the Bauhaus school of design, was a good venue to debate the legacy of Modernism. Robert Taylor Homes, one of the United States’ most extensive realizations of Le Corbusier’s vision of “towers in the park,” was recently demolished in the Windy City, to be replaced by a far more modest and contextual new urban plan. Sessions dealt with how to incorporate modern architecture into New Urbanism, including one on how to code Modernism. Some presenters acknowledged however that followers of recent modernist trends — deconstructivists, for example — defy coding.