The Chater of Athens vs The Charter of New Urbanism: On Liberty


The loudest contention of human behaviour (between the two charters) is an urban dialect of the liberty debate; it underlies the philosophical differentiation between the Athens Charter and New Urbanism. The liberty debate in pure form is as follows: positive liberty, the maximization of opportunity for the individual to self-actualize, dichotomizes with negative liberty, the maximization of options/routes/choices for the individual. The urban dialect of this dichotomy is a matter of assuming what type of liberty the individual should get (in the city, but not limited to). The charter of Athens assumes that positive liberty should be sought after – such that urban dwellers can self-actualize or work towards self-actualization. The Charter of the New Urbanism assumes negative liberty should be sought after – such that urban dwellers have the most choices/routes/options.

In the charter of Athens, CIAM demonstrated how they favour positive liberty. That is, by refraining from adaptation in design, and creating monotonous answers, one-size-fits-all solutions, to impose upon society. CIAM did this because they believed they were liberating people of their suffering. They were imposing positive liberty because they believed their approach to urbanism was going to help citizens evolve. This is also evident in their transportation suggestions, as they favour only vehicles; their emphasis on strictly modern building design, as it tries to solve human issues; and their response to chaos, as a means to create peace. Unfortunately, imposing positive liberty upon a city is blatantly problematic as it promulgates the vision of the imposer.

In the Charter of the New Urbanism, negative liberty is assumed. This is clear in CNU’s commitment to: adaptability, diversity, acceptance, and options, as found in their recommendations for transportation, design, housing, and heritage. The essence of their message in promoting mixed-used buildings and communities is an application of negative liberty. The charter imposes answers that leave room for choices, adaptation, and change – and every point in the charter reflect this. They believe, freedom in the city is having options.