Steve Mouzon on the value of CNU 17
We asked a number of CNU 17 participants a few questions about why they’re looking forward to the event. This is what Steve Mouzon had to say.
What issues and challenges are getting your attention these days? How much progress are you making?
The most pressing challenge today is how to live sustainably in our world—but the answers aren't obvious yet. Matter of fact, they're so obscure that most of the things we're doing simply cannot work. They might make us feel better for a while, but they will leave us still headed in the wrong direction. There are two primary reasons why the popular “solutions” cannot be winning strategies: they focus only on single issues—the carbon footprint, better gizmos, etc.—and more importantly, they don't really engage the culture at large.
I've been pursuing an idea for several years known as the Original Green, which was the original way of spreading the wisdom of sustainability. Its operating system consists of living traditions, which are the only proven delivery vehicles for real sustainability that humanity has ever known. And the Original Green works by engaging the population at large, not just the specialists. There are still Original Green mysteries, but we know enough now that we have already begun to create tools that we believe can re-start living traditions in our day.
What's something attendees will learn from your session that could give them an advantage in the field at a time when they need all the help they can get?
“Building Beautifully: Placing Craftsmanship Alongside Architecture and Urbanism in New Urbanism”
My part of this session will examine very new ways of re-starting living traditions... especially in places with extremely limited resources. The problems are daunting—like how do you do an architectural code if you can't use paper? The session will also look at novel ways of laying the foundations for living traditions closer to home by engaging builders, framers, trim carpenters, and masons, transforming them from wood-butchers and brick-throwers into real craftspeople like their ancestors.
“Proven Sustainability: the Original Green”
This session will be an hour of Original Green sensory overload—far more than you'll possibly remember once it's over, but hopefully compelling enough that you'll want to find out more... and then contribute to the growing body of Original Green knowledge and resources.
“Town Architects: The Newest Methods”
The Town Architect office has been used for nearly thirty years now to keep the architects in line, but it could do so much more. Specifically, certain new Town Architect methods have recently been found to be highly effective with builders, and is actually beginning to invert the custom/standard pricing equation. You know, the one where all the good details get the custom prices while the standard crappy suburban details get the standard pricing? That's now changing, thanks to these new methods that leave builders not wanting to build the same old crap, and pricing it accordingly.
“Smart, Sustainable and Economical: Homes for the New Era”
My part of this session will focus on the New Urban Guild's SmartDwelling Project. SmartDwelling I was just featured along with three other designs on the cover of the Wall Street Journal's special section on sustainability. SmartDwellings are substantially smaller than yesterday's bloated McMansions, but they live large, largely in part due to what the Guild is calling Smaller & Smarter Principles. SmartDwellings are also highly sustainable on several counts, calibrating their sustainability to each region of the country.
“Private Frontage Secrets”
This session will examine how the private frontages (porches, fences, hedges, and walls) that were once considered to be an art form have more recently been discovered to be primarily a science instead. The principles discussed here actually help to sell houses... and the neighborhoods they're located in.
What role do new urbanist solutions have to play in the recovery and in addressing major challenges we face?
That's the fascinating thing: the core principles of the New Urbanism happened to be ideas that made the movement a highly enticing (and very profitable) niche when the market was good, but those were just pleasant side effects. The real value of New Urbanist principles rests in the fact that they strengthen the things most fundamental to the healthy inhabitation of a place: the ability to walk to your daily needs, for example. So the real value of the New Urbanism is most evident when times are hard, because New Urbanist principles have the power to make people's lives substantively better. Interestingly, the good times actually held the New Urbanism back, because you could make money developing in many ways back then. But post-meltdown, people are beginning to seek out things of lasting value only to discover that suburbia doesn't contain those things—but the New Urbanism does. So the New Urbanism can, and should, play a central role in our post-meltdown world.
Describe a topic or challenge you are looking forward to exploring at CNU 17? (And urbanists with whom you look forward to exploring it?)
The challenges of building sustainably in the post-meltdown, peak oil, climate-changing world can actually have deeply intertwined solutions. No other dialogue is more important to New Urbanists right now. I am heartily looking forward to face-to-face continuation of this discussion with my colleagues in Denver.
What's a top reason people should attend this year's leading gathering of urbanists—CNU 17?
These are dark times in the design and development world, with many people even considering changing careers. But there's a curious dynamic that everyone should consider when thinking about coming to Denver, and it doesn't have anything specific to do with the New Urbanism. When times are darkest but a few like-minded colleagues band together to do something about it, a bond often occurs which, if they survive the crisis, will be remembered for a lifetime. The bond is partly due to the reduced numbers; only those who are serious enough (or some would say, crazy enough) are there. It's also partly due to that most basic human community reflex, or tribal reflex, if you will, to band together to get through the darkness. But whatever the dynamics are, you really should be one of those who can say in thirty or forty years: “Denver. 2009. I was there.”
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