Major Green Innovators Join Together for CNU's Sustainable Communities 2008

Join a group of foremost experts in exploring the field that will determine the future of our cities and our planet

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A "dream team" of experts in the field of community-wide sustainability would likely start with architect Sim Van der Ryn, the "father of sustainable communities," and include the colleagues with whom he has associated closely in the thirty three years since he was named California’s state architect under then-Governor Jerry Brown.

These partners include CNU co-founder Peter Calthorpe, author and social entrepreneur Paul Hawken, Whole Earth Catalog creator and pioneering online community founder Stewart Brand, author and scenario planner Peter Schwartz, and Brown himself, now California’s attorney general and a champion of legal actions that ensure development and transportation projects in the state don’t disregard the state’s Climate Solutions Act.

Sustainable Communities 2008 will bring together these leading innovators at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco on September 26, 2008 for a rare one-day seminar on the past and future of sustainable communities. With Jacky Grimshaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology moderating, they will explore the juncture of ecology and urbanism that's more critical than ever.

Between buildings and transportation systems, the design of communities accounts for at least two-thirds of U.S. energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Real relief from costly gasoline dependency and real progress against global climate change can only come from shifting from the inefficient sprawling forms of development that have prevailed and embracing efficient, enduring models for living. It's an economic and social transformation for which there are few more qualified guides than the participants in Sustainable Communities 2008. The event’s host is the Congress for the New Urbanism, a leading national organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl.

In a special lunchtime ceremony at the event, Sim Van der Ryn will be awarded an Athena Medal. The CNU award is given to design and development leaders who laid the groundwork for today’s re-emergence of urbanism and green community design. As ecological and economic challenges mount, the solutions initiated by Sim Van der Ryn become more relevant. "He is the Albus Dumbledore of green architecture,” wrote Patricia Leigh Brown in the New York Times. "Long before the Prius hit the road and sustainability became the buzzword du jour, there was Sim Van der Ryn….the intrepid pioneer of the eco-frontier."

Today’s crises involving rising energy prices and the climate impact of automobile-dependent, industrialized economies closely parallel those that sparked the sustainability innovation centered around Brown’s gubernatorial administration. The oil embargo in 1973 showed U.S. dependence on foreign oil could be crippling and that conservation and more efficient living offered the most reliable and lasting relief. "The environmental movement began to integrate its traditional ideas of conservation with differing ways of ‘living lightly on the land’ and the idea of sustainable communities emerged," recalls Calthorpe. "Complementary concerns included the nature of our food and farming systems, the chemistry of our waste and water systems, our modes of transportation. In sum, the kind of communities we built. Energy was just the tip of the iceberg — then and now. Out of this came Sim Van der Ryn’s notion of ‘Sustainable Communities,’ a concept still at the center of much needed standards for change."

Seeing these challenges with a whole systems approach was at the core of the design revolution Sim and his peers initiated. Calthorpe and Van der Ryn advanced this approach in their seminal book Sustainable Communities in 1986, to which Hawken contributed a prescient chapter on how the shift to "information economies" would prove disruptive but eventually enable less energy-intensive living. Although Van der Ryn is best known for "pioneering concepts now taken for granted, from solar roof panels to rainwater catchment systems," as the New York Times reported in 2005, in book form and beyond, Sustainable Communities also became a portal through which environmentalists learned the environmental benefits of walkable mixed-use urban fabric (and some other experimental suburban forms) — along with the ability of traditional urban form to accommodate passive solar and other re-emerging green techniques.

'With the disappearance of cheap fuel, the interest in environmental sustainability is expanding again beyond green technology in the narrow sense to the encompassing role community design plays in determining our environmental impact," says CNU CEO John Norquist. "It’s a pivotal time to have six of the top environmental thinkers in the world exploring the relevance of sustainable communities to the defining challenges of our time."

Visit the event website and register today.