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In this essay, the differences between the two movements are not discussed and the term SGNU is used for both Smart Growth and New Urbanism. One thing needs to be clarified is that SGNU emerged to join the postmodernism-versus-modernism debate but not a follower of either. As pointed by Beauregard, R. A. (2002), SGNU rejects the relativism of the former and the sterility of the latter. The following discussion is necessary and essential to understand the social justice concerns related to SGNU. On one hand, apparently SGNU is not a fan of postmodernism. Affected by a number of urban designers and architects, SGNU was established as a theory of pursuing good urban form or how our metropolitan areas ought to be (Ellis, C. , 2002). This kind of instrumental rationality of the normative planning is rejected by the postmodernism. One example is the concept of the well-defined boundaries in SGNU.
Specifically, SGNU defines the centers, network, space and community based on the clearly delineated edges while postmodernism sees all boundaries, even physical ones, as “fuzzy and contested” (Zerubavel, 1991). Also, the implementation side of SGNU is rejected by postmodernists. Specifically, a typical implementation process of SGNU begin with a public charrette, a series of workshops where local people get together to discuss what kinds of places they expect and how they would prefer to live. The goal is to find a shared understanding and consensus of the desired urban form, transportation settings or built environment. However, postmodernists rejects this approach to form consensus. From their perspective, consensus relies on commonly-held values and thereby conflates difference (Harvey, 1997). A more extreme view from postmodernists is that individuals’ points-of-views are not commensurable (Beauregard, R. A. , 2002), particularly when they are from different cultures/races. On the other hand, in terms of the planning and design thoughts, SGNU is not a defense of modernism. Specifically, SGNU did not follow the dominant modernism theory, also known as International Style (Relph, 1987). Instead, it dismisses the modernism’s insensitivity to human scale but encourages mixed-use, walkable and transit accessible urban settings. In fact, the major toolkits and goals of SGNU, reflect a common consideration – the sustainable development which emerged as a wave of theories against the modernism planning.
According to Campbell, S. D. (2013), the sustainable development in planning theory can be defined as “a broad collection of principles and corresponding planning policies to bring urban economies and local land development in closer alignment with the long-term limits of the landscape to support urban settlements, absorb the wastes of human activities and enable non-human flora and fauna to thrive”. From the standpoints of urban and transportation planners, the urban sprawl can be treated as the “waste of human activities” and in this way, SGNU can be categorized under the wave of sustainable development. Note that another wave of planning theories – social justice emerged around the similar period against the modernism (Beauregard, 2002). But each of these two trends has its own distinct histories and trajectories, deeply embedded in disparate ideologies, priorities and institutions (Campbell, 2013). The two separate conversations were found frequently overheard by each other but were found not easy to be merged.
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