The Dream Quest of Authentic Urbanism

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  • Title: The Dream Quest of Authentic Urbanism
  • Author(s): Scott Sworts
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: Design Principles & Practices
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design
  • Keywords: Urban Planning, New Urbanism, Architecture, Authenticity
  • Volume: 13
  • Issue: 4
  • Year: 2019
  • ISSN: 2325-1662 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2325-1670 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Sworts, Scott. 2019. "The Dream Quest of Authentic Urbanism." The International Journal of Architectonic, Spatial, and Environmental Design 13 (4): 57-72. doi:10.18848/2325-1662/CGP/v13i04/57-72.
  • Extent: 16 pages


New Urbanism, as an urban planning and design theory, emerged in the 1970s and it advocates a return to the traditional town forms seen in places like Savannah, Georgia, which was the first master-planned city in North America, and arguably the first example of a comprehensively planned city in the modern era. Drawing from these sources, the core proposition of New Urbanism is one of the ultimate expressions of nostalgia, and embodies the reality of an imagined past that is damaging the neighborhoods of today. When nostalgia becomes the primary focus of urban design, it substitutes for the potential to create the authentic, because nostalgia centers round the idea that “the past is better than the present and definitely better than the future; our best days are behind us; and if we want to have a glorious future, we have to recreate that great past.” In the nostalgia contrivance, there is no way that the future can be bright unless it is a reboot of the “Golden Age;” except that “Golden Age” never really existed. When applied to urban planning it becomes nostalgic environmental determinism, with the core idea being that reverting to the forms of the past solves a host of modern problems. This misguided strategy ignores the realities of modern aspirations and ever-changing patterns of life, and limits the development of authentic responses. As this article bridges between two disciplines, it will explore these concepts through the use of meta-analysis and synthesis of case studies with emerging environmental psychological research to examine how nostalgia limits the development of authentic suburban forms. It will also explore some strategies about implementing collaboration though decentralizing planning processes embedding more flexibility in master-planning and reducing economic stratification, with the goal of creating a collaborative urban development that is responsive to current societal needs while embedding the necessary flexibility to allow those neighborhoods and cities to respond to future development.