Durable Growth

Congress for the New Urbanism, CNU 21

View of Salt Lake City

View of Salt Lake City

There are many organizations promoting new urbanism.  Smart Growth America, StrongTowns, and Reconnecting America immediately come to mind.  And that’s barely scratching the surface.

But the organization that first came to my attention, and that continues to hold a primary place in my thinking, is the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU).  Its founders were among the leading lights in the early days of new urbanism and its “Charter for the New Urbanism” was the early manifesto.  Perhaps not up there with Martin Luther nailing his theses to the church door, but on the same list.

Shortly after I began this blog, a friend reinforced my interest in CNU and suggested that I attend a CNU meeting.  I didn’t give adequate weight to his advice and missed a CNU transportation conference last year in Long Beach that seemed to have been fascinating.

Unwilling to repeat the mistake, I returned late last evening from Salt Lake City where I attended the annual CNU meeting, CNU 21.  My friend was right.  It was inspirational.  And I met lots of great folks.

One blog post is inadequate to convey the breadth and depth of the meeting.  Instead, CNU 21 will be covered, explicitly and implicitly, in this space for long time.  But to whet your appetite for the urbanism buffet at which I feasted and am now eager to share, here is a partial list of memories and highlights:

++ The first morning, I found myself in the breakfast buffet line behind Ellen Dunham-Jones, the CNU Chair.  Dunham-Jones often jokes that she already has the urbanist name for the rock band she wants to lead in her next life.  I’d forgotten the name, so asked for a reminder.  It was the Underperforming Asphalt, a developer term for a parking lot that needs to be upgraded to a higher and better use.

To reinforce her rock dreams, she did an air guitar rendition of the opening riff of a Talking Heads song.  As far as air guitar performances go, it was fairly sedate.  But one must remember that it was a breakfast buffet line.

++ Andres Duany, a seminal figure and now the aging lion of the urbanism movement, was in fine form for his plenary speech.  He argued that the American environmental movement had gone down a flawed path that, while successful for many years, was now running out of ideas.  He suggested that urbanism could be the savior of environmentalism.

When the CNU president tried to come onto the stage to tell Duany to wind up his speech, Duany asked for a show of hands of who in the audience wanted him to stop.  No one raised a hand.  The president accepted his defeat and returned to his seat.

++ Opticos, the consultant who helped develop the Petaluma Station Area plan, was honored with a CNU Charter Award.  The award was for work they’d done in Richmond, but the award spoke to the skill that went into the Petaluma plan.  For those who remember the Opticos team from the Petaluma meetings, the team members who were in Salt Lake City to accept the award were Dan Parolek, Ed Starkie, and Lisa Wise.

++ I watched the Charter Award while sipping on Wasatch Beers Polygamy Porter, subtitled “Why have just one?”  Salt Lake City has a surprising number of brew pubs.  I was consistently impressed by their quality.  I also noted, and several other folks confirmed, that, although the flavor was full, the alcohol content was surprisingly low.  (The Polygamy Porter is at only 4.0 %.)  The Salt Lake City brewing approach results in beers that can be enjoyed all evening with no ill effects in the morning, which is good for urbanism.  Many CNU folks did rigorous testing.

++ Charles Marohn, who did a video conversation with Petaluma Urban Chat in February, delivered the closing plenary.  It was much the same presentation that he shared with Urban Chat, with the addition of a several strong closing points.  The attendees gave him a standing ovation.

++ Last is a remembered picture of the closing party, held in a public space in the middle of a street in the Granary District of Salt Lake City.  (More about the location at another time.)  Duany, dressed in a vent-less cream-colored dinner jacket, was smoking a large cigar and looking with satisfaction over the gathering in which his career has had such a major effect.  It was an image that will linger.

Perhaps the only downside of CNU 21 was the realization that I’ve been writing this urbanism blog for 18 months despite huge holes in my knowledge.  I think I’ve consistently tried to delineate the limits of my understanding.  But CNU 21 was a reminder to double and redouble my caution on that point.

For now, my primary goal at this point is to do justice to the knowledge that I gained last week.  And to figure out how to get to Buffalo in 2014 for CNU 22.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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