Congress Day One: Climate Change, Market Turmoil Raise Stakes as CNU Brings Urban Solutions to Austin

Fast-Growing Austin Rallies Behind Gathering as Chance to Control Its Destiny

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AUSTIN, Texas – March 31, 2008 – As more than 1,500 experts in urban planning, development, transportation, sustainability and real estate gather in Austin for the 16th Annual Congress for the New Urbanism from April 2-6, the attendees will turn a microscope on Austin and a telescope on the world as they explore and advance solutions to urban sprawl, climate change and community development.

The Congress comes at a time when concerns regarding the planet’s changing climate and the ills in the national housing market are serving to energize New Urbanism. The movement’s holistic approach to building and rebuilding cities and towns – uniting the art of building, the creation of community, and the conservation of the natural world – is proving a rich source of solutions and long-term value in this time of significant change.

Within the last year, CNU partnered with the United States Green Building Council and the Natural Resources Defense Council to launch the LEED for Neighborhood Development pilot rating system, the nation’s first certification system for green neighborhoods. As a report on National Public Radio reinforced this week, residents of compact, transit-served, mixed-use new urbanist developments such as Atlantic Station in Atlanta have enough attractive alternatives to driving – including walking to nearby destinations – that they drive as little as 1/3 as much as the regional average. That creates sizable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, along with health and quality of life benefits.

Best of all, these urbanist solutions complement rapidly awakening consumer interest in urban lifestyles in settings ranging from small town downtowns to inner-ring main streets to dense city downtowns. In addition to the appeal of urban life, these neighborhoods provide a range of housing options – from apartments above stores and townhouses to single-family homes – that fit a population of diverse and often smaller households. According to Virginia Tech University demographer Arthur C. Nelson, scheduled to speak at the Congress, the United States is now overbuilt with large-lot single-family homes but is facing an urgent need for a variety of smaller units in walkable, urban neighborhoods.

CNU is busy at work expanding its capacity to serve this demand. One key issue is that current zoning codes, transportation systems, and emergency-response philosophies work against – or even outlaw – New Urbanism. Leaders of CNU are working on ways to help mayors, other elected officials and leaders from civic and professional life put these urban remedies into place faster. These efforts will be showcased in plenary sessions on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. So will a new document, the Canons of Sustainable Architecture and Urbanism, which seeks to create a more detailed and continually refined set of operational principles to complement the inherent sustainability of CNU’s founding document, the Charter of the New Urbanism. “New Urbanism is an available, effective and convenient remedy to the inconvenient truth of global climate change. It’s also a way for Austin to grow its economy but remain livable – and remain recognizable as the Austin that people here know and love,” says CNU President and CEO John Norquist.

With its rapid recent and projected growth, Austin must act now or see the continued march of automobile-oriented sprawl erode its frequently expressed desire for green growth and its fiercely independent sense of local identity. For these reasons, community leaders such as Mayor Will Wynn,Councilman Brewster McCracken, and State Rep. Mike Krusee, chair of the Texas House Transportation Committee, are participating enthusiastically in the Congress and the regional media are watching closely as well.

“The conference has a reputation for transforming thinking and land-use patterns in cities where it's held,” wrote Katherine Gregor in this week’s Austin Chronicle. “We'll be in the fishbowl – analyzed by some 1,000 leading progressive developers, real estate types, architects, town planners, and city officials from around the country and the world – as we search for solutions and celebrate and share our successes.” See ongoing coverage of the Congress in CNU's group blog, the CNU Salons.

From its new rail systems to infill transit-oriented developments to a downtown residential boom, Austin impressed conference organizers as a location where New Urbanism can take hold in one of America’s fastest-growing regions. With the city as a backdrop, local and global experts will speak on topics including sustainable urbanism, coding for new development, streetcars, mixed-use development, enabling great streets, retail planning, gentrification and others.

The Congress for the New Urbanism conference is the nation’s leading forum dedicated to advancing urbanism and promoting alternatives to sprawl. This year’s event, CNU XVI: New Urbanism and the Booming Metropolis, will take place at the Austin Convention Center and is expected to attract local, national and international attendees, including developers, architects, town planners, urban designers, engineers, environmental consultants, landscape architects, housing specialists, real estate brokers, regulators, real estate financiers and government officials. Conference organizers hope that CNU XVI will leave a lasting mark on growth and development in Central Texas and beyond.

In addition to the many speakers and discussion sessions, conference attendees will also have the opportunity to tour many Central Texas projects and landmarks, including the Mueller Airport redevelopment, the former greyfield Domain and The Triangle TODs and stops along the new Capital Metro commuter rail line, Downtown Austin, East Austin and local parks, to name a few. See complete program listings and schedule.

About CNU
The Congress for the New Urbanism is the leading organization applying the principles of city and town design to today’s development challenges. Working with architects, planners, transportation engineers, CNU advances walkable, compact neighborhood development as an alternative to sprawl.