The New Urbanist movement aims to recapture the best of historic urban design, and it's done much to help extricate our cities from the hyperorganized zoning and crushing scale of postwar planning. New Urbanism can be considered revolutionary only in its return to common-sense principles: It acknowledges the idea -- so abhorrent to modernists -- that messy complexity is often preferable to the sort of desiccated order that's characterized most planning since World War II. It holds that neighborhoods should be diverse, both in planning usage and demographics, and that human beings rather than motor vehicles should form the basic metric of urban design. For all the good that's come from this ongoing retooling of our cities, however, some nominally New Urbanist projects are showing troubling tendencies. One of these is an increasingly cloying reliance on feeble and often irrelevant historical detailing. Fiberglass columns, foamed plastic cornices and PVC windows with false mu...
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