CNU NextGen: The congress before the Congress

CNU XVI opened officially on Wednesday night, and things really kick into high gear on Thursday, but a dedicated and diverse group of planners, developers, architects and students spent the day Wednesday discussing various topics and issues as part of CNU’s NextGen initiative. This next generation of New Urbanists is focused on airing issues and ideas related to the intended and unintended trends of urban and rural environments and building the next crop of New Urbanist leaders.

This year incorporates a major change for NextGen and its relationship to these annual CNU gatherings: NextGen will hold an Open Source Congress—open space meetings on various topics—on each day of CNU XVI, said Jim Kumar, NextGen’s national steering chair.

Wednesday’s program began with a series of morning presentations touching on green building practices, open source planning and “Light Imprint New Urbanism.”

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co.’s Charlotte, N.C., team—Tom Low, Nora Black, Guy Pearlman, Monica Carney and Lauren Koutrelakos—led an hour-long discussion of Light Imprint, which integrates storm water management, green building and neighborhood design. The team spent the past year putting together a Light Imprint handbook, which is available on the web.

Introducing Light Imprint, Tom Low reminded the crowd of about 75 people—more than half of whom raised their hands when he asked to see who was attending their first CNU event—that the New Urbanist approach is all about creating a sense of place. Then he showed a slide of a Starbucks shack in the middle of a parking lot, next to an unlandscaped retention pond. “This is the new look of Starbucks,” he said. The company that made a name for itself opening neighborhood coffee shops, which it liked to call “people’s third home,” has in recent years bent to the will of the auto-centric culture and started opening drive-through and stand-alone stores on suburban shopping center outlots. But Starbucks is just following a trend that Low calls an “international crisis” of so-called low-impact design standards leading to low-quality development.

The Starbucks building in Low’s photos probably complied with all of that particular city’s storm water management policies, and maybe even went above and beyond by installing an expensive storm water filtration system. The city, grateful for the cache and retail dollars a Starbucks store brings to development, was likely more than happy to approve the store, and slap a “green” label on it. Developers keep on building sprawl, and cities keep approving it, because this new version of sprawl calls itself “green.” The “green revolution,” Low said, is adapting and actually prolonging sprawl development.

Light Imprint seeks to change the way developers and planners think about things like storm water impact, and to give them new sets of tools for addressing them in a New Urbanist context. The handbook is available in both the online version and in a portable print version. Check it out by clicking on the link above or visiting

NextGen spent the afternoon addressing various topics in its Open Source Technology sessions. Attendees broke into small groups for three half-hour long sessions covering issues like:

  • bringing new urbanism to the mountain West, where planning for open space can be contentious in property rights-focused towns;
  • targeting redevelopment of under-served urban areas and how to see economic development in a New Urbanist context; and
  • informing students about New Urbanism;
  • In a world where information moves at the speed of light, humans interact more with their cell phones than with each other and ideas and issues can have a short shelf life, these NextGen participants spent the day talking and listening to one another, hashing out ideas and coming up with solutions.

    Future sessions this week will include a new initiatives forum from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, a concurrent Open Source Congress to continue the Open Space Technology discussion on Friday from 12:45 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., a Congress-wide Open Space Technology session from 9:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday and NextGen’s annual organizational meeting from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

    NextGen also has after-hours events planned. The group went on a pub crawl Wednesday night. On Thursday NextGen is encouraging people to meet up for Austin’s First Thursday event on South Congress Avenue, a happy hour “Sustainabash” at 6:30 p.m. Friday featuring folks from Austin’s local sustainability and urbanism circles and a post-party Saturday night meet-up, slated for 11 p.m.

    For more information, visit NextGen’s web site at


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