Examining the Relationship Between New Urbanist Theory and Implementation: A Case Study of Downtown Brea

Date of Award

Spring 2014

Document Type


First Advisor

Rebecca Overmyer Velazquez

Second Advisor

Les Howard


Since the early 1980s, the new urbanist and smart growth design movements have been gaining momentum in urban planning as combatants to the growing environmental problem of suburban sprawl. These anti-sprawl movements promote walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods containing a range of housing types and public transportation options. A small but growing number of studies are beginning to test the various claims of these movements in urban planning, such as their supposed positive effects on public health, residential diversity, and community life. Downtown Brea, a 60-acre retail, entertainment, and residential complex completed in October 2000, has been recognized by the California Downtown Association, the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment, and the EPA as a Smart Growth success that created a needed sense of place and a healthy mix of uses amongst the monotony of classically suburban Orange County. This case study examines the relationship between policy, planning, and town design principles set by the Congress for the New Urbanism in its charter, and the real life outcome of these principles when planted particularly amidst a suburban sprawl dominated region such as Orange County. A mixed quantitative and qualitative evaluation of those who share space in Downtown Brea tests various claims of the New Urbanists such as enhanced community life, walkability, and transit usage as a viable alternative to travel by automobile. A survey of downtown residents and collection of in-depth interviews with city officials and businesses suggest that residents of the Downtown Brea redevelopment area possess the strong sense of safety and responsibility for their community that the Congress for the New Urbanism had intended, but that autodependency remains prevalent and the space’s functionality has been compromised by a postsuburban focus on dining and entertainment. Findings from this study help identify gaps in our understanding of the relationship between the Smart Growth or New Urbanist planning principles for a vibrant, thriving community and how the implementation of those principles plays out amidst a sprawl-dominated region such as Orange County.


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