This article from the Daily Kos brings up some good points of discussion. They start by mentioning the “White Flight” behind suburban development. From there they go on to compare Leesburg, an exurb that is totally car dependent, to Gaithersburg, which “has a quaint “downtown,” very few cars, lots of walking, and…wait for it…a wonderful sense of community.” The problem with Gaithersburg, which they misallocate to the design of Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ), is that it is just as racially and economically homogeneous as your regular suburb. In addition to this de-facto segregation, they critisize New Urbanism for being susceptible to gentrification.
First of all, Gaithersburg is mostly suburban. DPZ only designed Kentlands, a small part of Gaithersburg, so to attribute all of Gaithersburg’s problems to the design of DPZ is not entirely accurate. Second, gentrification is a big problem. Part of it is that projects that aren’t really New Urbanist use the title as a buzzword, and developments that are just modified suburbia, which cause more harm than good, make true New Urbanism look bad. If you look at the Charter, it’s obvious that communities of mixed income and race are a big priority. There’s also a problem with supply and demand. Many New Urbanist developments start out affordable, but because there are very few of these developments and because they quickly grow in popularity (demand), prices skyrocket. This has very much been the case at Daybreak, Utah’s premier New Urbanist community. Part of housing affordability is having a variety of housing types, from apartments to condos to townhouses to single-family. Another technique is less design-oriented and more policy-oriented. Crawford Square, in Pittsburgh‘s Hill District, when it underwent New Urbanist redevelopment, created a policy by which they made sure there was a good balance of units that were for sale, for rent, and rent-controlled, so that anyone on the income spectrum could afford something in the neighborhood. Despite early fears of gentrification, there have actually been some citizens who have been able to start in rent-controlled units and work their way up to owning their first home.
The moral of this story is that, yes, New Urbanism can encourage gentrification, just like any form of urban redevelopment. But if dealt with in a smart way, it isn’t necessarily the only outcome.