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Talking of Housing

1. Housing types and urban patterns: what is new?

Residential sprawl in metropolitan areas is a common phenomenon although it has different characteristics worldwide. In many countries we have observed a migration from core, compact city space toward outer areas. There is an accompanying change in building type from condominium / apartment structures to single unit housing. This results in considerable change in land use from agricultural to residential. The lack of services, the non-existence of urban amenities plus social isolation end up in unregulated sprawl and in sorts a “non city”. In this set up new industry and activities appear, overrunning the landscape once devoted to cultivation and pasture: highways, commercial centres, office parks, sport centres, technological parks, etc.. The desire for better housing and the ubiquitous dependence on the use of cars are both at the root of the development and there is no denying that motoring encourages the trend.
The pervading suburban development pattern, especially evident in the United States, is producing a reaction. The so-called “New Urbanism” ideology, rapidly spreading in North America and in some European countries, in order to overcome the typical uninspiring contemporary subdivisions tries to reinvent a traditional urban character in new developments. Such attempts consist mainly in placing emphasis on density (of people and of activities), on social services as elements of collective identity (central places, public buildings), on public transport as an alternative to the private car monoculture and on general rules of design. Whether these efforts can take root as an alternative to suburban culture remains to be demonstrated because the “New Urbanism” appeals specifically to middle-high income social groups. Segregation is still the main element allowing the suburb to be successful while at the same time being different from the “traditional” city, in its varied forms. Moreover, all this negates the reality of a post-modern city where co-existence of different life styles, emphasis on information flows, and obsolescence of a hierarchical order are in concert with an economy based on knowledge and communication more than production. It is difficult to imagine that the new city is nothing more than a replica of the old one.