The Charter Awards at 20: Looking back, moving forward
Urban planner Geoff Dyer, CNU-A, is chairing CNU’s twentieth Charter Awards jury in 2020. CNU has officially opened up the period of submissions for awards in this special year. This year, the jurors are especially looking for projects that emphasize the importance of design to New Urbanism, and that respond to using great design to address and help solve the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Dyer was interviewed by Public Square editor Robert Steuteville on the upcoming awards and what they mean to New Urbanism.
What do you think about being the chair of the Charter Awards in their twentieth year?
I’ve been involved with CNU as long as the Charter Awards have been around, and early on I depended on the talent and expertise of those who were doing projects at the time. My laboratory and studio involved studying the best projects and the people involved. The Charter Awards would be a guide to the best work in New Urbanism. Ultimately, the New Urbanism was exceptional by the high level of design. At the time I was not seeing it anywhere else.
What are the common threads in NU over the years?
I’ve watched CNU evolve over the years by taking on numerous sub-movements and different priorities—the growing breadth of the types of projects that we were doing. When I was asked to chair this year’s awards, I took a look at how much has been achieved last two decades and what are the common threads. One of them is that CNU is so good at using design to solve our many problems and it naturally attracts a desire to use innovative ideas to deal with challenges.
Working in the charrette environment, when you get in a room working with people you may not even know but you know that you are on the same page in terms of the Charter principles and the overall goals—there’s a real advantage and power in that. We all have a commitment to the Charter and building good, walkable, mixed-use urbanism. Another common thread that is not as appreciated is a raw talent in using design to solve problems.
In recent times a lot of our principles are being adopted across the boards. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are being applied at a high quality. We are seeing them applied in mediocre fashion in many cases. It’s not just about the principles—we need to continue to keep a high level of design.
You talked about the talent. How is it trained?
Because of where we started with the high level of design, CNU naturally attracted folks who aspire to that level and appreciate it. Good design is not always appreciated in the market. CNU has proven that these models of good design work. The charrette in particular has been a great way to train that talent—to mix the folks who are experienced and can work with up and coming generation, helping them to understand the skills and apply them.
How does the next generation relate to the value of design?
The next generation has been a constant thread in CNU for the last 10 to 15 years. What the founders of the New Urbanism have been able to achieve has been very clear. The achievements of the next generation have not been quite as clear. The good side is that we have expanded the breadth of the organization, and we are still figuring out how the next generation really comes to full force and brings CNU to the next level. The principles of CNU are widespread—the design is not consistent. The next generation faces a different set of problems. Whereas the first generation was starting from scratch, the next generation has to take up the reins and show how high-quality design works with those principles to bring value to those projects.
What role do the Charter Awards play in passing on to another generation what it means to have a high standard design in urbanism?
Charter Awards are a way to create a benchmark as to our priorities at that time. Also, they exemplify the best projects that are out there that meet the priorities and the focus of the organization. That’s increasingly important as more and more projects are using the principles of New Urbanism. The awards showcase those projects that combine the principles and great design.
The Charter Awards inspired me and guided me to achieve better things. I have watched over the years as these projects are showcased. It’s exciting for me to sit in the driver’s seat and host a committee to shape and send a message—this is where we are right now and these are projects that best represent the movement.
My hope is to see where design has been used to creatively solve the pressing challenges in front of us. It’s not just about renderings and even how the buildings look. It’s the full package—using good design and solutions to impact our daily lives and push the New Urbanism forward.
We are inspiring the next generation of good design and going back to our roots. That’s where we started. That’s what inspired people and it will continue to inspire people going forward.
The jury also includes Alli Thurman Quinlan, Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, Mitchell J. SIlver, and Andrew von Maur. For complete biographies, click here.
Charter Awards nominations will be accepted through 11:59 pm EST on February 3, 2020. To learn about the guidelines and apply, visit this link.