Architecture journalist and weblogger Nancy Levinson of Pixel Points corrects a misapprehension:
In a recent cyber-browse through the online literature, I noticed that my last post, on "neotraditional travel," was mentioned in the American Society of Landscape Architecture's Land Online and in David Sucher's City Comforts, and that in both cases my comments were read as a defense of New Urbanism. This isn't exactly what I'd intended, and so I'd like now to add some postscriptive thoughts — partly to clarify what I might have left vague in remarks that ranged (rather loosely) over a lot of ground, and partly to give some sense of my critical leanings.
Living in what you might call the Old Urbanist town of Cambridge, Mass., I am grateful for the convenience, the everyday ease, that comes with good public transit and dense walkable neighborhoods clustered around corner stores and small-scale retail strips. But New Urbanism hasn't become a phenomenal success because it promotes mixed-use zoning and multi-family housing and metropolitan light rail; it's become a phenomenal success because it is closely linked with a comfortably quaint aesthetic, with what Ada Louise Huxtable, in The Unreal America, has called "the genre of romantic recall." Style isn't the issue, New Urbanists will insist; and in principle it isn't. But in practice it's style that sells; and it's style that has made New Urbanism not just a movement but also a brand. Style is — of course — hard to argue with. Either you like something, or you don't. Either you stroll happily through a tidy New Urbanist town and admire the Italianate clock tower and the shingled cottages with the gabled roofs . . . or you feel (count me in) as if you've wandered into a warmed-over exercise in postmodern parody. That is — maybe — an exaggerated view of the usual range of aesthetic response. But somehow we've got to the point, in mass-market housing design, where architectural invention and exploration are mostly unsought, if not downright unwelcome.
Couldn't have said it as well myself although I tried in a post of 11 January 2003 on a previous weblog wherein I wrote, in part (names and no-longer-working links omitted):
M_____ has posted an impassioned, epic-length screed contra what he calls "modernist" architecture, by which he means all forms and styles of architecture practiced today by the elite of the architecture establishment (whose work M_____ contemptuously dubs "egotecture"; a neologism that may either be his or borrowed); those who get their work published in architectural journals such as, say, the Architectural Record as opposed to those architects whose work would never see the light of day in such journals but might be published in a consumer periodical such as, say, House and Garden. In other words, M_____ is against, say, a Mies or a Wright, and is all for...whatever mediocrity whose work the latter named periodical might find proper fodder for publication. (I can almost hear M_____'s objection to my saying he's against a Wright, giving me all sorts of reasons, with examples, why Wright would not be on his (s)hit list. But if he's reckless enough to attempt that, he'll find his arguments against elitist architects in shreds by his very own hand, with only the tiniest assist from me.)
M_____ is all for architecture movements with names such as Traditionalist, New-traditionalist, New-Classicism, and New Urbanism. And just what are these movements about? M_____ would say they're about architecture done by those who "...are more interested in user-centric values (comfiness, neighborhoods, context, tradition, craftsmanship) than they are in showing off their design prowess." I would say they're about building being done by those with essentially the same vision as William Levit when he built the first Levittown: offer the Common Man what he wants and feels comfortable with at the right price, and he will come in droves. Buildings built according to the so-called Traditionalist, New Traditionalist, and New Classicism aesthetic are little more than nostalgic, picture-postcard-pretty confections; and communities designed according to the aesthetic of the New Urbanism, little more than upscale, prettified Levittowns Levittown with tasteful historical elevations and details. Buildings and communities built according to these aesthetics positively reek of "comfiness"; the comfiness of an old shoe or an earth-dug grave.
In short, they're all irredeemably dreadful as architecture; in fact do not even deserve to be called by that name. They're merely buildings built by builders, not architects with any aesthetic right to the title.
My views haven't changed one iota since writing that, nor do I expect them to change any time in future.