From Do You Really Believe That?, by Kevin Klinkenburg at Better Cities & Towns:
So yes, I do believe that sprawl retrofit is not a wise approach for new urbanists. I’d say, let’s keep it simple – let urbanism be urbanism and let sprawl be sprawl. Let each rise or fall on its own accord and on its own pocketbook. As urbanists, we stand a far better chance of succeeding if we draw lines around what we really, truly care about – pedestrians first here, no negotiating. If we insist on pedestrians as the priority everywhere, we ruin our chances of success where it matters the most. What our cities and people desperately need are coherent, contiguous neighborhoods in every region where cars aren’t necessary – not multiple, tiny pockets of so-called “walkable” developments or half-block wide “corridors” that look great on a map but are mediocre at best in the real world.
If we draw lines around what we really care about, it pays off in so many respects. It’s a better sell to elected officials. It’s easier for the engineers to grasp and deal with. It’s easier to change regulatory systems. And for the public – they’ll get it and see complete, connected urbanism. It’s an impossible task to successfully change the entire spectrum of what created the suburban pattern, so it’s better to focus on what we can change that can be GREAT. Excellence is all ultimately that will change hearts and minds and make people demand more of it in more places. Watered-down, only partially walkable urbanism will only frustrate people and cause a backlash. “What, you mean I can’t REALLY walk anywhere other than a block outside my apartment AND you’ve now made it harder to drive? You planners are idiots.”
Here is the response from Robert Steuteville, Sprawl repair is Essential, Unavoidable:
… abandoning suburban retrofit isn’t going to happen.
New Urbanism was launched a quarter century ago by a committed group of multidisciplinary professionals seeking to reverse the worst social, economic, and environmental impacts of sprawl. New urbanists, as a group, will never “let sprawl be sprawl.”
“Drivable suburban,” areas, otherwise known as sprawl, make up about 95 percent of the land in US metro areas (built, amazingly, in less than a century), according to research by Christopher Leinberger. The rest, about five percent, is “walkable urban” — historic neighborhoods and street grids.
Improving walkable urban areas and revitalizing run-down neighborhoods are critical projects for new urbanists, but we can’t leave the other 95 percent alone.