Highlights of CNU 21
One interesting part of today's CNU session was Andres Duany's keynote speech. Duany focused on the relationship between environmentalism and New Urbanism. He suggested that the fear of climate change was actually more important in shaping public policy than climate change itself, because this fear may create long-term demoralization (especially, I suspect, among environmentalists - though I'm not sure if Duany was saying this).
In response, Duany said that New Urbanism could stop such demoralization by making environmentally responsible conduct pleasant and desirable. Good urbanism turns the apparent limitation of life without a two-car (or three- or four-car) garage into a virtue. Duany also emphasized that our job as new urbanists is to focus on adapting to climate change rather than prevention. Why? Because in the absence of international action, there's not all that much that can be done to prevent climate change.
Duany also discussed city design, emphasizing that one problem with the process of public hearings is that issues are sometimes decided at the wrong level. For example, infill development may involve issues of citywide or regionwide importance, yet the interests of one neighborhood are often given overwhelming weight. He also suggested that new building doesn't need to be multistory; when a neighborhood is being developed, one-story buildings might be the cheapest form of real estate and thus most appropriate. As the neighborhood becomes more popular over time, multistory building might be more practical.
Another interesting panel was on form-based codes. The panel responded to concern that such codes had become too complex. Brenda Scheer suggested that codes were too focused on good design rather than good urban fabric. Sandy Sorlien suggested that codes often involved too much nonmandatory explanation and too many photos.
Finally, John Massengale and Victor Dover led a panel on street design. They showed us photos of supposedly "complete" streets (that is, streets with sidewalks and bike lanes, or that had been narrowed to make pedestrian crossing easier) that are still basically ugly and car-oriented. In addition, they showed us car-oriented avenues in Manhattan, reminding us that even pedestrian-friendly places have some very car-dominated streets. Finally, they showed us examples of one-way streets and pedestrian malls (both of which tend to be unpopular among New Urbanists) in walkable towns, showing us that ideas that make little sense in much of America might make sense in the context of a network of small, interconnected streets.
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