CNU Members Descend on Philadelphia to Explore Sustainability and Enduring Value of Old City Urbanism

Philly Congress comes as New Urbanism's role in addressing environmental problems, housing affordability, transportation reform, and other issues is growing

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By Ben Brown

The opening plenary of the 15th annual Congress for the New Urbanism kicks off tonight (Thursday, May 17) in Philadelphia with a star-studded cast, including featured speaker Witold Rybczynski. But our most ambitious Congress ever got underway weeks ago as debates on the various New Urbanist listservs hinted at the continuing emergence of the movement’s big themes.

Among them: Not just housing affordability, but community affordability; not just the challenge of ADA compliance, but the need for accessibility for a full range of abilities and incomes; not planning on one hand and coding on the other, but a fusion of the two; not just green building, but comprehensive green planning.

CNU president John Norquist hit similar themes in his kick-off essay in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The op-ed makes a strong case for compact urbanism as a powerful -- and convenient -- for Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. And Congress attendees will take part in discussions on all those threads during sessions through Sunday.

New Urbanist bloggers began the talk before anyone arrived. You can read John Massengale’s take on the Philadelphia setting here And Michael Lewyn’s blogs on the city and the Congress have already begun in the CNU website Salons (here and here. Over the next four days, we’ll link regularly to Michael’s posts and other Salon discussions.

The immediate run-up to the traditional opening day included a commitment from a brave band of Southerners to make the journey to Philly without resorting to personal cars or taxis. They began in Atlanta and made it to the Congress on Wednesday. You can follow their adventures here.

On Wednesday, the Congress enjoyed the best-attended round of pre-opening sessions ever, with an all-day confab for the Next Generation (read more about it here and here and with a set of Urban Labs in the Francisville neighborhood on Philadelphia’s Lower North side. The 125-plus Lab attendees, including representatives from the neighborhood, got hands-on experience calibrating a SmartCode and integrating Christopher Alexander’s ideas about generative coding, partially through the use of the “feeling maps" seen here. See and learn about more of the group’s activities. The group’s contributions –including the first steps in calibrating a form-based zoning code for Francisville -- will add to research and planning that should lead to much-needed revitalization of the neighborhood.

Before attendees gather for tonight’s plenary, many will be touring the city with local experts and catching up on evolving strategies for New Urbanist planning and coding in the popular New Urbanism 101 and 202 sessions. We’ll offer once-over-lightly coverage of the ongoing events in this space, so check back regularly.