Recapping the Denver congress
CNU’s annual Congress proved to be just what urbanists in the hard-hit fields of planning and community design and development needed. While groups associated with conventional building and design struggle in their search for signs of life and direction in today’s markets, CNU 17 seemed defined by a sense of urgency and clarity, even when compared against the standard set by past Congresses.
The Congress’s 1,020-plus attendees — and CNU’s board, executive leadership and staff — came to Denver with an obvious purpose: making the most of a moment of promising political change and of opportunities posed by a set of crises for which New Urbanism is a necessary solution.
Milestones included the debut of the first accreditation program for new urbanists, the first coordinated set of sessions covering New Urbanism as a global warming remedy, sessions on agricultural urbanism, new momentum towards important policy reform goals, and a new model developed through the CNU 17 Experiences for field-testing new urbanist development and charting its performance in incorporating the principles of the Charter.
The experience of gathering as urbanists and productively engaging one another on key issues felt particularly meaningful this year. CNU co-founder Dan Solomon put this feeling to words eloquently. “New Urbanism exists because of the ever-deepening bonds among the community of people who sustain it. The lives and life-work of every one of us have been altered and enriched by our many friends in CNU,” he wrote in a note circulated after the Congress. “There is nothing else and there could be nothing else as nurturing to our work and our spirits as annual immersion in the broad, multi-talented circle of people who have come to know each other so well ....”
It wasn’t just CNU insiders who sensed something special. In a posting titled “Thunder and Excitement at CNU 17,” Planetizen managing editor Tim Halbur wrote, “The atmosphere is dramatic here at CNU.... Everyone is a twitter (and yes, some people are Twittering at #CNU17) about the effect of the economy on the role of New Urbanism. The consensus seems to be that there is a spark of purpose in attendees and presenters not seen in recent years, driven by the culture shift inherent in this new economy and the need for new urbanists to shift in to high gear to help solve climate change ....”
A strong Wednesday opening plenary session left no doubt about the tone and direction of the Congress. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory set the stage, revealing how the payoff from improved rail transit and vibrant urbanism far surpasses their political risks. CNU board chair Ray Gindroz outlined the role of the board in working with CNU’s chief executive to guide the organization in a vital response to changing times, reviewing the work of current initiatives and outlining a revamped, transparent process for developing new member-led initiatives to reform professional practice or policies.
A call to action
Board vice chair Victor Dover followed with a powerful call to action, saying new urbanists have solutions that must be applied to four converging emergencies: global climate change, an incipient post-peak oil era and coming post-carbon world, deteriorating public health, and the wave of changing demographics mismatched with current housing patterns. “We have enduring, tested, detailed, holistic, artful solutions to address all four emergencies at the same time,” said Dover. “It’s good we have ways of contributing countermeasures to more than one of the emergencies at a time, and sometimes all four, because there will not be enough money to solve any of them individually. There just won’t. Since you have this talent to be able do that — to spend private and public money one time to solve four things at once — you are hereby declared indispensable.”
Other highlights are almost too many to mention but include:
• The debut of a new professional accreditation program to recognize the talent and expertise within the new urbanist movement. The program incorporates an online exam developed by the University of Miami and announced its first eight CNU-accredited members.
• The first fruits of the initiative, announced last year, to elevate New Urbanism as a global warming solution. Robin Rather of Collective Strength joined Carol Coletta, chief executive of CEOs for Cities, in a session on Selling the Urban Advantage, noting that personal and bottom-line benefits will likely be stronger motivators than environmental concerns. Another session covered how the complicated modeling and planning tools being pioneered by CNU co-founder Peter Calthorpe can be coordinated with new urbanist place making tools such as the Transect to reduce the carbon impact of development and achieve good urbanism.
• A number of informative sessions on ambitious policy reform strategies, including CNU’s John Norquist and Ray Gindroz, Jacky Grimshaw and Scott Bernstein of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Nick Donohue of the Virginia Department of Transportation, Regina Gray of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, transportation engineer Rick Hall, and Texan political veterans Scott Polikov and Mike Krusee.
• An opportunity for members to become intimately familiar with the new LEED-ND system, co-developed by CNU, by running the three Denver developments featured in the CNU 17 Experiences through the new LEED neighborhood rating system.
Learn more about these and other memorable CNU 17 events by reviewing coverage in the CNU Salons (www.cnu.org/taxonomy/term/1549) and viewing presentation materials at (www.cnu.org/presentations).