Congress Impressions: Interview with Some NextGen-ers

We interviewed some of the conference attendees to get their feedback on this year's Congress.

Names, Jobs, Places: Faith Cable (2007 graduate, master’s program in Urban Planning, UNC Chapel Hill, heading to Berlin on a Fulbright next year), Kimberly Kirchman (designer, Canin Associates, Orlando, FL), Megan McLaughlin (2007 graduate, master’s program, University of Miami School of Architecture), Chelsea Pierce (planner, Canin Associates, Orlando, FL)

Question: How many Congresses have you been to?
Answers: first Congress for Megan and Kimberly, 2nd for Chelsea, 5th for Faith

Q: What are your main reasons for attending?
A: Faith—When I was a senior in college I heard John Norquist, Andres Duany and Jim Kunstler speak at an architecture conference. They were talking about what I was trying to learn but school wasn’t teaching me. I thought it was great. I started the SNU chapter at the University of Minnesota and I came to the Congress that year and every year since. It’s been really great. The more I come the more I learn.
Kim—I came because it’s been kind of an interest of mine for a while. And since the firm I work for, Canin Associates, creates livable, walkable communities, this seemed like the next logical step in educating myself. It’s such a big event and there are so many exciting ideas.

Q: What have been some of the highlights of this year’s Congress for you?
Megan—The biggest resource is the people, but there’s not necessarily a good way to find them.
A: Faith—I spoke at the Next Gen conference this year on urbanism and the environment. Also, the LEED ND day-long session was very interesting, we had a really good level of discussion. Next Gen had an organizational meeting that was cool.
Kim—I liked the format of the LEED discussion, where one presenter posted issues and the other responded. It was more informal, it seemed to get people more motivated to jump in. Also, the discussions on Mississippi Gulf Coast and Katrina, to be updated and get insider information was nice.

Q: Any take home lessons?
A: Kim—You pick up little things here and there, things to research later.
Chelsea—When you’re working, there comes a point in the year where you’re working on the same projects and dealing with the same red tape and it gets tiring. Then the Congress comes along and you get excited. Now I can go back and do what I do and I’ll deal with all the shit because I know it is worth it and the goal I am working towards is a great goal. Next Gen helps a lot with inspiration.

Q: Any suggestions for next year’s conference?
A: Faith—Some of the sessions I’ve heard before since this is my fifth year, so I want to see more things I haven’t already heard, more fresh faces, more new ideas.
Megan—I’d like to see more forums. The lectures are great but there’s never any time to talk, and the speakers are really good but the people in the audience are probably just as good and have a lot to contribute. It would also be really good to get contact information for everyone who attends various sessions.
Kim—That way we could keep the conversation going.
Megan—Next Gen is great for young people but the demographics for CNU is so tiny. Next Gen really helps inspire young people, but I wonder if there should be something for women, something for minorities, something for engineers. Maybe CNU should try to make New Urbanism more accessible. There are so many people involved in the planning process.
Kim—One of the big barriers with New Urbanism is trying to explain it to other people. Even my mom. Somehow we have to educate the public. It’s not enough to say, “We’re going to build this.”
Megan—“And trust us, it will be great.”
Chelsea—Most of the people I know don’t know what New Urbanism is. It hasn’t caught on in the outside world. Even planning – I’ve had to explain to my family about 80 times what a planner is. With New Urbanism, a lot of people think you are going to make everything urban.
Faith—In planning school the definition of New Urbanism is even worse, it’s building elitist communities for rich white people. They don’t think of downtown infill as being New Urbanist. The branding has a lot of issues.
Chelsea—I was in a session where they were talking about getting the public to implement plans and one of the people on the panel said not to use terms like New Urbanism or TND or Smart Growth.
Faith—People don’t understand the terms.
Chelsea—Or they think they do, but they don’t.

Q: Parting thoughts?
A: Chelsea—We need to go back to work and feed our knowledge from the conference to the rest of our company.
Kim—We’re going to take over the world.

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