#CNU18 Spirit of change rolls In on two wheels as CNU 18 opens
The spirit of transformational change rolled in on two wheels Wednesday night at the opening plenary of CNU 18 at Atlanta's famed Tabernacle Theater.
This year's Congress is titled "New Urbanism: Rx for Healthy Places," and it's clear that bicycles are going to be a key element of that prescription.
The opening plenary included an actual certified rock star, David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, who has more recently been attracting attention with his book "Bicycle Diaries."
He's been "riding a bike as a way of getting around for a while," he said, and even carries a folding bike with him on his travels, "and this has got me to think about cities and how they work."
Alluding to the venue, he acknowledged that he was "preaching to the choir - at the Tabernacle," and showed photos and video clips from his travels through many places - some of them dominated by cars, others with places made for bicycles and people. He drew cheers with his shots of bike paths and various public bike parking options. And hee even included a faux-urban Disney-style street in Los Angeles. "It's kind of revolting, but it sort of works, because it's a real street, in a certain kind of way."
Two key visuals from his presentation: (1) a fever chart showing that the number of bicycle injuries and fatalities in New York City fell significantly from 1998 to 2009, from over 5,000 to about 3,000, despite a significant increase in the numbers of cyclists; and (2) a photo of the head of Louis Vuitton commuting to work on a bike.
Another hero of the opening plenary was Charles Brewer, founder of Mindspring and developer of Glenwood Park, the acclaimed New Urbanist developed in Atlanta. He suggested pointedly that New Urbanists are too accommodating to cars: "We bend over backward to proclaim their lack of hostility to cars. Is this really necessary?"
He showed pictures of the largely car-free village of Eze on the French Riviera, "not even the size of a decent-size grocery store parking lot." He asked, "Why aren't we New Urbanists building more Ezes? Why aren't we more willing to keep cars out?"
Commenting on New Urbanist efforts to get Americans out of their cars, Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones wondered aloud, "Could it be as simple as that bicycles could be the key to cultural change? Bike lanes aren't cheap, but they're cheaper than light rail."
Photo: In helping to open CNU 18 at the Atlanta Tabernacle, David Byrne celebrated the impact of bicycles and Jane-Jacobs-inspired urbanism in making cities more humane. Pictured are termite mounds bearin an abstract resemblance to Corbusier's version of a towered city devoid of street life.
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