Urbanists See Recovery-Oriented Shift to Neighborhoods that Deliver More — Nearer Destinations, Lower Fuel Bills, Better Return

Bringing Top Leaders in Advancing Walkable Cities and Towns to Denver, the 17th Congress for the New Urbanism Kicks Off Today

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While many observers are searching for any signs of life in the struggling real estate, architecture, and development sectors, the members of the Congress for the New Urbanism will be busy this week preparing to meet the demand they see developing quickly for development in walkable neighborhoods that suit changing American needs and tastes.

Bringing together more than 1000 leading urban planners and designers, architects, developers, engineers, government officials, lenders and community activists, CNU 17 is the leading national conference promoting the planning and development of walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods rather than automobile-oriented sprawl.

As CNU 17 organizers get ready for the conference's start tomorrow, many signs — including a US EPA survey of development trends — confirm that a major shift is underway, as long dominant automobile-dependent cul-de-sac subdivisions account for a declining share of the residential market and development in walkable traditional neighborhoods accounts for a rising share. At the same time, automobile-oriented shopping malls, even business parks, are in decline and are being reimagined as traditional mixed-use neighborhoods where offices and shops are located near housing, restaurants, and services. CNU board member Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson, co-authors of Retrofitting Suburbia, report that 7 of 13 malls in the Denver area have undergone or are undergoing this type of transformation — another sign of clear directions emerging in existing urbanized and transit-served areas, while areas on the automobile-oriented exurban fringe sit waiting for rethinking. Quoting Dunham-Jones and Williamson, Time magazine recently called "recycling the suburbs" one of "10 ideas changing the world now."

Established in 1993, the Congress for the New Urbanism first articulated this challenge to conventional sprawl and now has more than 3000 members active in pursuits such as developing transit-oriented neighborhoods around rail stations, converting decommissioned military bases and former industrial sites into mixed-use neighborhoods, designing highly connected street networks, and developing form-based zoning codes to replace the common separate-use codes that produce sprawl. The work takes place across regions, from small towns and villages to inner-ring suburbs and big-city downtowns.

CNU 17's plenary addresses, interactive breakout sessions, tours, and in-field critiques all work to accelerate the reurbanization that's underway — and ensure that it takes place in a way that emphasizes human-scale design and livable communities with a range of rewarding public spaces from streets and sidewalks to squares and parks.

CNU 17 is being co-hosted by the City of Denver's pace-setting planning department led by Peter Park, and is attracting a group of planning and development leaders — such as Andrés Duany, Peter Calthorpe, Doug Farr, Ellen Dunham-Jones, Léon Krier, Marianne Cusato and James Howard Kunstler — who set the development reform and innovation agenda nationally. CNU 17 "Experiences" will bring experts and newer urbanists to high-profile new urbanist infill projecs — Stapleton, Belmar, and Highlands Garden Village — to interact with residents and project team members and put the resulting urbanism under the microscope, using a scorecard to rate how it stacks up to the 27 principles in the Charter of the New Urbanism. Findings will be digested and debated at the Denver Sheraton, the conference headquarters, where the emphasis will also be on great speakers, including Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, cities advocate Carol Coletta, accomplished urban designer Victor Dover, Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory, and HUD official Michael Freedberg.

As the real estate and development industry works to get back on its feet, the environmental, energy-efficiency and quality-of-life benefits of walkable urbanism set it apart. Top demographics experts such as Arthur C. Nelson and market analysts such as Lori Volk see the U.S. already built-out with enough large-lot single-family housing to supply decades of demand, but they see a developing shortage for diverse housing in convenient walkable, well-connected neighborhoods — a form that appeals both to downsizing baby-boomers and the similar wave of young, single echo boomers. Read Volk's brief on this "demographic imperative."

For more information, contact Stephen Filmanowicz at 312-927-0979 or sfilmanowicz@cnu.org and follow updates from the conference via twitter, #cnu17. The conference site is cnu17.org.