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“The early victory of the New Urbanism was in shifting the academic and professional conversation away from mass suburbanization as the only available model for the human habitat,” explain Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia in their 2015 book, Tactical Urbanism.
Given how completely sprawl dominated land-use planning and development in the decades after World War II, that’s no small feat. Yet CNU has accomplished a great deal more than that since the organization was founded in 1993—it has improved people’s lives and the economies of communities. The following are achievement highlights of CNU and its members:
In 1996, CNU members ratified the Charter of the New Urbanism. The Charter’s 27 principles articulate a powerful vision for growth and development on the scale of the region, neighborhood/district/corridor, street/block. The Charter is among the most powerful and influential statements on land-use in the last half century and continues to serve as the guide for the movement. CNU authored two editions of a book The Charter of the New Urbanism (1999 and 2013), with chapters and commentaries explaining the principles in detail.
Hundreds of new urbanist developments proved that mixed-use neighborhoods with main streets and urban centers could be built again and that the public would buy into them. Long-neglected building types were reintroduced into many American markets: Among them were shopfront houses, small apartment buildings, granny flats, courtyard housing, liner and flex buildings, various mixed-use buildings, and small-lot single houses with usable porches and rear garages—which add livable housing choices for people coast to coast. Many of the best of these projects have wonCharter Awards.
Through transit-oriented development, conceived by CNU cofounder Peter Calthorpe and intellectually fleshed out by leading new urbanists, the connection between transit and land-use planning has been strengthened.
New urbanists were among the first to fight for walkable streets designed for slower-moving traffic that support bicycling, transit, public life, and mixed-use neighborhoods. These streets save lives and improve economic activity. The functional thoroughfare categories of local, collector, and arterial roads were replaced, in the new urban vision, with main streets, boulevards, avenues, narrow residential streets, and other multimodal street types that add character to capacity. Along with the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), Federal Highway Administration (FHA), and EPA, CNU authored Designing Walkable Urban Thoroughfares: A Context Sensitive Approach, a manual of best practices for the design and implementation of high-volume streets that support a sense of place and multitude of activities.
The urban-rural Transect was conceived by cofounder Andres Duany and that concept contributed to new land-use codes—form-based codes—that CNU members developed as alternatives to conventional zoning. Form-based codes focus on character of place more than separation of use and have been adopted by hundreds of municipalities in the US and abroad. Form-based codes are transforming how land-use is regulated—they support more livable communities that boost tax revenues.
CNU created the design criteria for the HUD’s HOPE VI program, which transformed many of the most deteriorated and isolated public housing facilities into vibrant mixed-income neighborhoods. HUD carries these ideas forward in the current Choice Neighborhoods program.
CNU partnered with the US Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), CNU helped to create LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND), the first system in the US for rating and certifying entire neighborhoods as green.
Through its Live/Work/Walk project, CNU is leading the effort to reform federal housing finance underwriting rules that prevent the development of mixed commercial-residential districts.
CNU’s Highways to Boulevards project directly addresses the need to convert aging, elevated urban highways into surface-level, value-adding boulevards.
CNU members have taken the lead in repairing and retrofitting the suburbs, turning shopping malls into mixed-use centers and commercial strip corridors into multiuse, urban boulevards. CNU’s Sprawl Retrofit project gathers together many of the tools and ideas developed by members for revitalizing the suburbs.
CNU members have written scores of books on the built environment, including some of the top urban planning and development books of the last quarter century, such as: Suburban Nation, The Geography of Nowhere, Retrofitting Suburbia, The Next American Metropolis, New Urbanism: Toward An Architecture of Community, Walkable City, Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns, Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design With Nature, City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form, Form-Based Codes, and Tactical Urbanism.