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Learning from the past: Historic Districts and the New Urbanism in the United States

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Until recently in the United States, as in many other countries, the past was not considered a usable guide for town planning. This situation has dramatically changed with the advent of scrupulously restored and maintained Historic Districts. The past as interpreted and presented in these has been a major influence on the movement in urban planning and design known as the New Urbanism. A wellknown example of this is Seaside, Florida, where the codes used to define acceptable styles of house design and the relationships of houses to the overall townscape bear close resemblances to the regimes of control that have developed in connection with local Historic Districts. The article draws parallels with writers on town planning earlier in the twentieth century who drew inspiration from the past as depicted in plans and maps. Although the inspiration may now appear to come from actual places, this process of idealization of the past is very similar because Historic Districts themselves are very tidied-up, idealized versions of their pasts and have, in their conceptualization, been influenced by ideas of what is good city form.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2000

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