Monday, April 16, 2018


The most recent American “new town” movement took place
in the 1970s and 1980s, but it is almost forgotten now as urban
centers are growing even faster today --- and with little of the
innovative planning and design impulses that were at the heart
of that episode of social demographic problem-solving.

Known as Title IV new communities, there were about twenty
of them, each a public/private collaboration whose private
developers’ loan financing was guaranteed by the federal
government under the stewardship of the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development. They were located near large
metropolitan areas across the nation.

They didn’t last long -- as most critics of federal bureaucratic
projects might have predicted. An unexpected economic
downturn in 1974, only five years after the first new town was
opened in Minnesota, upended the movement when the fragile
economies of these communities could not make their  loan
repayments, and the Nixon administration threw in the
towel precipitating bankruptcies and stalled development.

The idealism of the new town movement was also. on occasion,
opposed locally for imposing certain design and planning
standards that faced some disagreements on political and
environmental grounds. The first “new town-in town” (called
Cedar-Riverside near downtown Minneapolis) was such a case,
with serious grass roots protests about high-rise, high density
housing. The existing new town complex today serves primarily
as home to a significant number of Somali refugees who have
recently settled in the Twin Cities. Other Title IV new towns
have been assimilated into the suburban communities near
where they were located.

The first Title IV new town, Jonathan, has been integrated into
the city of Chaska, Minnesota --- Jonathan had been, prior to
1967, farmland within Chaska’s boundaries. Today, Jonathan
retains much of it new own planning design and a certain
amount of its original identity, but the earlier innovative
spirit has been mostly replaced with more traditional
suburban growth patterns and standards.

The new town movement is a global phenomenon, however,
and centuries old. All cities, it must be remembered, were
once “new” --- although in practice, modern new towns
have been planned and designed. Notable examples of this
include Brazil’s new capital Brasilia and Australia’s capital
Canberra. The U.S. capital of Washington, DC was a
planned new town in 1800. Prior to the Title IV program,
there were several town experiments in the 19th and
20th centuries. Columbia, Maryland and Reston Virginia
are perhaps the most well-known, and still exist. Many new
towns were created in Europe, and the new towns are springing
up worldwide,

I moved to Jonathan when it was very new, and ended up
publishing Appleseeds, the first independent Title IV
new town newspaper. Later, I published and edited the
Cedar-Riverside newspaper Many Corners, a pioneer Twin
Cities community publication. (Many of the neighborhood
newspapers begun then survive to this day, covering local
news ignored by the daily establishment media.)

I was a witness to the growing pains, controversies,
innovative spirit, excitement and disappointments of these
early Title IV new towns. Its basic purpose of bringing
rational planning to urban and suburban growth has been
largely set aside.

Another attempt to accomplish this locally was the creation
of a “metropolitan council” that would oversee the
seven-county Twin City growth through coordination of
transportation and sewers, and later, zoning and housing.
But this, too, after initial successes, has become mired in
controversies and citizen protests against high-handed
regulation and planning.

In the 1970s, growth saw the continuation of the post-war
flight from the cities to the suburbs, and even to entirely
new communities in the exurbs. In 2018, that trend seems to
be reversing, with substantial new condo and apartment
construction in the cities bringing back suburbanites to
city centers.

But the dull architecture, randomness and high prices of 
new housing has little of the excitement and innovation that
was intended and begun by new towns. Combined with
increasing downtown traffic congestion, disappearing
on-street parking, heavy urban taxes of all kinds, and a
plethora of rules and regulations penalizing local stores,
restaurants and other businesses, this trend intended to
revitalize inner cities might be more short-sighted than
now imagined.

Perhaps another, and more creative, new town movement
is in order.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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