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My flight was scheduled to arrive at LAX at in the morning. I could get a rental car and be out of Los Angeles before rush hour, heading up the California coast to visit my father by mid-afternoon.But my plans were spoiled by a thunderstorm in Chicago, which added five hours to my travel time.Consider the opening statement of its Charter, adopted in 1996: “The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.” Clearly the problems identified by the Congress were genuine problems. Its agenda also seemed to me to be on the right track: “We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.”Moreover, the recommended means and guidelines of the Congress appeared well-fitted to its proposed ends: “We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.” I could find much to affirm and little to argue with in the Charter.Nevertheless, the New Urbanism has had its share of critics.When asked by outsiders where they lived, people rarely named their town anymore.They just said, “Orange County.” It didn’t seem to matter where you lived, as long as you were reasonably close to a highway and the TV reception was good.I delved into the literature on urban design and the cultural history of cities.I did coursework at the University of Miami School of Architecture.
The towns themselves had been gutted as retail moved out to the malls.Typical travel distances lengthened, and traffic became a serious problem.The Fullerton News-Tribune folded and became a weekly section of The Orange County Register.At the end of his career, my father worked for a chain drugstore in a supermarket far removed from his place of residence.His customers were strangers to him, and remained so.