It should be obvious but I will state it explcitly that personalities are secondary. This post is about ideas and ways of viewing urban change. "Duany" and "Alexander" are simply justly-renowned figures who act as stand-ins for two differing ways of seeing.
I don't think it's a speculation much longer. In a recent blog post (The Smart Growth Manual) I had mentioned in passing that after reading The Smart Growth Manual I could understand why Alexander is not, so far as I understand, a New Urbanist luminary (that's Large-Caps as in CNU) becxause of differing political sensibilities.
After reading the post, a friend of mine asked:
I didn't follow your final comments re Alexander. I do know that he received a Seaside Prize one year (I was there), and that he is generally held in high regard by the new urbanists I've met.
Oh I am sure Duany respects Alexander. How could he not?
And vice verse.
My speculation is about differing views of design process. Alexander cares for the process by which places are built.
Duany cares about the result.
(Of course I am sure both care about both so it is a matter of emphasis and priority.)
There are huge political implications in those two views.
Surely they value similar towns and cities. So, as I was wondering whether to include this Duany/Alexander speculation in a blog post, (and an admittedly somewhat irrelevant speculation), I ran across this interview with Alexander at http://www.livingneighborhoods.org/library/battle-for.pdf
I think it confirms my sense — nails it in Alexander's own words:
The system of planning, regulation, design, and production that we have inherited from the relatively early part of the 20th century makes all of that impossible. CNU is a strongly motivated and in part highly sensible way of addressing this problem. It has arisen from highly sensible people, architects, who are now in a panic because they see the problem, want to do something about it, don’t really know what to do about it, and so they try to hark back to history and historical forms. Their motive is completely understandable, but their means cannot succeed, because they hope to do this within the same technical means of production that are producing the most far-out and absurd postmodern concoctions. Harmonious order cannot be produced by copying the shapes of the past, although I suppose it might be mildly better than indulging in the very horrific architectural fantasies that are deliberately intended to shock. But at root it is the system of production and the processes of production which are at fault. Until these are changed, architecture cannot get better. (emphasis added)
When I read The Smart Growth Manual, the differences in attitude (between Duany and, say, Alexander) on political authority just popped out. I hadn't realized how much Duany likes authority and telling people what to do but it certainly comes through very clearly in the book. Duany is a man of the establishment — he likes, or at least acknowledges, the importance of social authority and for him, the only problem with the way we do things today is in the final result i.e. auto-dominated sprawl. The political process is fine — results matter. Alexander, however sees the two are one: good product cannot come from bad, flawed top-down process.
If you can link to public writings from both men to either support or destroy my musing, please hack away. Perhaps I have it all wrong and I will eat my words.