Everybody Loves Ed (and is roused by the regional message of Calthorpe and Barnett)

At last night's plenary session, Richard Barnett was honored with the prestigious Athena Award for his contribution to the revival of urbanism. Peter Calthorpe spoke movingly about the future of the Gulf Coast and the potential for . But it was the cheesesteaks that brought down the house.

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell spoke passionately and persuasively about the revival of Philadelphia and other cities around the country. "There is a great reservoir of love for cities if we can tap into it. There is no 72 degree mall which can compete with a city street at Christmastime."

To illustrate his point, he enthused about Philadelphia as "the best junk food city in the United States." His proof? Cheesesteaks. "Whenever anyone anywhere tries to replicate a cheesesteak, it inevitably fails. They make three mistakes, they use good meat, they use real cheese and they actually drain the grease off the onions." With that, he encouraged the audience to explore Philadelphia's neighborhoods in search of this Proustian food.

On a more serious note, Governor Ed (as a blogger I now feel that I am entitled to use his first name) identified three endemic problems which are preventing cities from reaching their full potential--education, proverty/crime and mass transit. He provided several examples of the impact of these issues on the revival or urbanism, and in the last years of his administration commited to support the cities of Pennsylvania. "If we're serious about making cities great places, we have to demonstrate the political will on these areas and our faith in cities."

After Governor Ed's rousing Cheesesteak theory of urbanism, the...er...meat of the session began. Jonathan Barnett took the audience through a vision of Florida which preserves its natural beauty for the next sixty years--if certain steps are taken like preserving open space and providing mass transit. "With the addition of mass transit and purchase of land rights, a different pattern of development emerges in terms of land required to be urbanized." He concluded with the common sense adage that "It costs a lot more in infrastructure to develop the wrong way than the right way. [Sustainable development] is a superior way of developing and it costs less."

One of the founding parents of CNU, Peter Calthorpe, wrapped up the session with a vision of the CNU of the future. He acknowledged that the focus of the CNU in the past had been on the neighborhood, and encouraged CNU participants to look beyond the neighborhood scale to embrace both architecture of individual structures and the larger regions in which neighborhoods are located. "The focus has been neighborhoods, but we had bookends of architecture and buildings and regions. We need to integrate these bookends into our view of urbanism."

Using the Gulf Coast region as an example, Peter showed the impact of envisioning urbanism at the regional level. His graphs, charts and other self-avowedly "geeky" slides of the benefits of urbanism, including access to affordable housing, healthier lifestyles, etc. He concluded with the statement which all CNU participants undoubtedly agree--"There is no [statistical] measure that doesn't get better with urbanism."

Images:
1) Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell gave a passionate pro-city, pro-transit, and pro-cheesesteak message.
2) CNU co-founder Peter Calthorpe demonstrates how ambitious regional planning in Portland helped reduce per-capita VMTs as population growth grew dramatically.
3) An image from Calthorpe's lecture shows how projected infrastructure costs in the New Orleans region vary based on three different growth models. The scenario on the left features 90% of future growth occuring on currently undeveloped land and also leads to far higher infrastructure costs. The scenario on the right features far less greenfield growth and results in far-reduced future infrastructure costs.

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