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Streetsblog Capitol Hill Q&A With Leon Krier

5:05 PM EDT on September 23, 2009

Architect Leon Krier has been dubbed the godfather of new urbanism. His work on the U.K.'s Poundbury development project, spearheaded by Prince Charles, has made the Luxembourg-born Krier one of the world's most talked-about urban planners.

Krier_Cartoon1_thumb.jpgA drawing by Leon Krier -- click here to see full-size version (Image: 2Blowhards)

When Krier won the University of Notre Dame's inaugural Driehaus Prize for classical architecture, Congress for the New Urbanism co-founder Andres Duany's was quoted describing a Krier lecture that changed the course of his career.

"I realized I couldn’t go on designing these fashionable tall buildings,
which were fascinating visually, but didn’t produce any healthy urban
effect. They wouldn’t affect society in a positive way," Duany said.

“The prospect of instead creating traditional communities where our
plans could actually make someone’s daily life better really excited
me."

Krier will be delivering a lecture at Washington D.C.'s Corcoran Gallery of Art tonight on the themes of his work and his latest book, The Architecture of Community. He sat down to speak with Streetsblog Capitol Hill about America, its transportation infrastructure, and his call for cities to consider the "human scale" as they develop.

Q. What do you think of congestion pricing?

A. Like most experiments with urban space, it was taken without an examination of the consequences. Congestion pricing ... tries to make people feel guilty about what they're doing. [Transportation decisions] are not a matter of our personal responsibility, they are a matter of our collective responsibility. You can't ask people to change their lives overnight. It's not possible, and I don't think it's even desirable.

We are part of a global empire that relies on fossil fuel. How can we design our cities to modify our behaviors in the long term so people do not feel guilty? [The cities of the future] should be structured in a way that they can survive the depletion of fossil fuels. That's where there is no discussion and needs to be a discussion.

Q. Do you see tension developing in the U.S., particularly its political sphere, between urbanites and those who live outside cities?

A. I thought there would be pressing demand at the [Obama] White House for environmental thinkers like Andres Duany, because there are very few people who have thought about what to do about how our cities are arranged. There is very little statistical, factual knowledge that can be used to convince people that an alternative is ready -- and it's ready. The only public figure I know [with such knowledge] is Prince Charles, who has been thinking and publishing on these issues for decades. They think he's a nutcase ... because he thought that by mentioning these subjects, [urbanism] would be picked up on and developed.

Q. What would your message be to Americans who are working to make their cities more livable and sustainable?

A. The yardstick [for urban planning] is the human body -- the size of your legs, how far can you walk? In the future, cities should be designed so most activities can be reached by foot. It's scale not only in the horizontal dimension, but in the vertical dimension. What I'm saying is, I don't want these conditions to be imposed, but to be designed.

How do you re-establish the human scale? I mean in an anthropological sense, a methodological sense, not an emotional one. The suburb and the skyscraper are two culprits that should be gotten rid of.

(ed. note: Krier's remarks have been edited for space and continuity.)

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