Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Laurent, SD: New Urbanism & American Sign Language

A story in yesterday's New York Times discussed the planning process for a proposed new town to be located about 35 miles west of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The new town--named, "Laurent" after the nineteenth century French educator, Laurent Clerc--is intended to be built as a place that takes into account the needs of users of American Sign Language.

Interestingly, the developers of Laurent are squarely situated within the theory and concepts of New Urbanism and Traditional Neighborhood Design. Looking to Andres Duany and Jane Jacobs as inspiration, they invoke a rather utopian notion of "community" and a hefty dose of nostalgia [a look at the developer's concept paper reveals that nineteenth century Martha's Vineyard is a model].

Of course, the appeal to New Urbanist dictates is understandable as the sensibility of walkable, visually appealing environments can accommodate people with diverse capabilities and interests. Like most New Urbanist developments, however, Laurent will most likely be an unwitting contributor to sprawl as the town site is situated right off of Interstate 90 and regional economic realities make it likely that Laurent's residents will have to travel to Sioux Falls and elsewhere for employment.

Also, with it's specific marketing to users of American Sign Language, the town is likely to come under fire from activists who see it as contributing to a further "ghettoization" of people with disabilities.

Nevertheless, the Laurent project is certainly unique and should be seen as a continuation of the long history of American experiments in utopian planning. Marvin Miller, Chief Operating Officer of the town's developer (The Laurent Company), has a blog giving regular updates on the project. If you are interested in participating in the community planning charrette, it will last all week.