Howard Gillette, Jr.


On his book Civitas by Design: Building Better Communities, from the Garden City to the New Urbanism

Cover Interview of July 11, 2010

A close-up

I am particularly intrigued with the story of public housing, where one would least expect to encounter “communities of citizens.”

The early history of the movement to provide decent shelter at affordable prices reveals, however, the same high intention of creating physical means for enhancing social ties among residents, such as common recreational and use facilities.  The hostility to such amenities and their presumed costs led to their elimination, and public housing became over time the last refuge of those who could least afford better options in the private market. Park Duvall public housing complex in Louisville, before (above) and after (below) conversion in accordance with New Urbanist design.  Photographs courtesy of Urban Design Associates, Pittsburgh.

When the Department of Housing and Urban Development adopted New Urbanist design guidelines under its Hope VI program in the 1990s, the gap between public and private housing narrowed.  Despite this apparently successful marriage between social uplift and good design, however, such successes have been infrequent in the private sector.

One example, pictured on the book’s cover, in calculated relationship to the best example of garden city design in America (Radburn, New Jersey), is the Ethel Lawrence Homes in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.  Open to residents whose incomes fall between 20 and 80% of median income, the Lawrence facility is every bit as inviting physically as the best private developments in the region.  Such examples remain the exception, however.