A Reply or Two to O'Toole
By Laurence Aurbach
February 22, 2005

It's a little hard to keep track at this point, but here it is: Town and O'Toole wrote an article about new urbanism and crime in Reason magazine, I rebutted the article, and O'Toole wrote a letter in response. O'Toole's letter appears in its entirety on a separate page. I won't reproduce the whole thing here, just reply to several of the statements.

O'TOOLE (quoting Oscar Newman): I am not very impressed with the work of the New Urbanists. It is nostalgia--a throwback to the past, with little thought about what made those environments work then (long term occupancy by an identical economic class and ethnic group), and unworkable today (occupancy by itinerants, mixed incomes, and ethnic groups).

REPLY: I am not very impressed with Newman's knowledge of new urbanism or its excellent record in reducing crime and creating new, safe neighborhoods.

O'TOOLE (Quoting Newman): Assign that same area to specific families and they will guard it as their own and control the activity within it.

REPLY: That technique is part of the new urbanist toolkit. And, as my quotes demonstrate, Newman was fully in favor of public space provided it was designed correctly.

O'TOOLE (Quoting Newman): [Jacobs'] theory was disproven when we had a major incident in New York--the Kitty Genovese murder--in which over a hundred people witnessed the beating to death of a woman in the street by a stranger and not only did not intervene, they didn't even call the police. The reason: they did not identify the street as theirs.

REPLY: First, the circumstances of one murder does not prove or disprove any theory. Second, there were only a handful of eye witnesses at 3:20 in the morning, and the police were called. (Thanks to Will Cox for the source.)

O'TOOLE: In short, the key is "territorial definition of environments," not eyes on the street.

REPLY: Wrong. The key is both. Newman is clear about this in his books, as my quotes demonstrate. O'Toole's implication that natural surveillance is not important is extremely irresponsible.

O'TOOLE (quoting Newman): the residential environments they (the New Urbanists) are creating are very vulnerable to criminal behavior, unless, of course, these environments are exclusively occupied by high income groups--which, by their own definition, they are not.

REPLY: That is pure speculation, not supported by the evidence.

O'TOOLE: For some reason, Aurbach diverges from the main point of the article -- crime -- to address some other issues.

REPLY: I address the issues that O'Toole raised in his article. "For some reason"? That's the only reason.

O'TOOLE: This was on a page called "New Urban basics." While CNU may have deleted it from its web site, it is on several other sites with attribution to CNU, including http://www.ub.es/escult/docus2/NEW_URBANISM_%20BASICS.doc

REPLY: It's called verifying your sources, and it's an important part of journalism. By the way, that document doesn't attribute CNU, it only lists CNU as a source of additional information.

O'TOOLE: Aurbach makes the conventional New Urban argument that New Urbanism reduces congestion. He confuses reducing per capita driving with congestion, which is not the same thing.

REPLY: No. I address them separately.

O'TOOLE: the increases in density needed to reduce per capita driving are huge -- 10 times the average density of most U.S. urban areas.

REPLY: Wrong. An increase in population density will decrease per capita driving, and the data approximately fit a smooth curve. Every doubling of density decreases vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 25 to 30 percent. Higher density areas with 40% less VMT than low density suburbs are common in the U.S. See for instance http://www.smartgrowth.org/library/cheers.html

O'TOOLE: I have read all the [health] research that claims to find this result and it is anything but credible.

REPLY: The research was peer reviewed and published in mainstream journals. It was credible enough to satisfy the scientists who were in a position to make that judgement.

O'TOOLE: In short, Aurbach fails to contradict the key points of our article: Research by police in England has shown that New Urban design significantly increases crime.

REPLY: I have cited numerous sources that contradict that point. Examples of research and case studies. Check 'em out.

O'TOOLE: While there is no equivalent study of New Urbanism in the U.S., research by Newman and other criminologists on specific aspects of New Urbanism, such as mixed uses and alleys, shows that they make residences more vulnerable to crime.

REPLY: New urbanism is a complete design approach, and its "specific aspects" are implemented in concert with a full range of design elements. Mixed use and alleys must be designed correctly, as part of a larger neighborhood design, to be safe, functional, attractive and highly valued. New urbanists have in fact achieved this in hundreds of developments.

Isolating one element of new urban design, and correlating it with poor examples of that one element elsewhere, has little or no relevance. What's relevant is the empirical record of existing new urban communities. We'll all be better off to stick with actual evidence from true new urban communities.

If you have any question about which places are true new urban communities, The Town Paper or The New Urban News will be happy to provide you with a list of them.


1. Correcting the Crimogenic Crowd
2. O'Toole's Response to Aurbach
3. A Reply or Two to O'Toole
4. Related Materials on Safety and Neighborhoods