Durable Growth, Education

CNU 22: Best moments from the plenary sessions

Older homes within a walkable distance of downtown Buffalo

Older homes within a walkable distance of downtown Buffalo

My recent posts have been about CNU 22, the 22nd annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism.  CNU 22 was held in Buffalo, New York earlier this month.  Continuing the theme of the last two posts (here and here), this post will also highlight the CNU 22 moments that were particularly insightful or inspiring.  In the next post, I’ll begin pulling back and looking at the bigger picture.

From attendance at two CNU annual meetings, I can observe that CNU consistently finds exceptional plenary speakers.  At CNU 21, the list included Andres Duany, Chuck Marohn, and Richard Louv.  And the list at CNU 22 was just as strong.  Some of the best moments follow.

Urbanism needs to be the rule: Ken Greenberg, long-time urbanism consultant and former Director of Urban Design and Architecture for the City of Toronto, noted the progress that urbanism has made since the founding of CNU.  He cited the number of great projects that have been developed.

But he then noted that those projects are often the exceptions in communities that continue to work from a drivable suburban template.  He challenged his audience to work toward changing good urbanism from the exception to the rule.

Victims of demographics: Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner for the City of Toronto, reminded the listeners of the demographic lessons that are evident in the marketplace, the desire of the coming generations to live more urban, less auto-centric lifestyles.  She put the message bluntly.  In her opinion, “Cities that don’t attract echo boomers will disappear.”

“Disappear” is presumably an overstatement, but “fail to prosper” is certainly likely.  For those living in communities pursuing economic development strategies that don’t include urbanism and attracting the young generations, which includes many North Bay communities, the message should give pause.

Finding new and different ways to make the argument: Jeff Speck spoke at one of the plenary sessions that was open to the public, an innovation that I found inspired.  There were many local citizens and students who didn’t belong to CNU but nonetheless took the opportunity to listen to the author of “Walkable City”.

Speck began by noting that much of the audience had likely read his book and perhaps also listened to him speak on at least one occasion.  But he didn’t see a problem in that.  As he noted, winning converts, even to a good cause, takes multiple arguments with different shadings to overcome different objections.

Speck said that he was consistently learning new and better ways to make his argument for walkability and he challenged the audience to listen to him with the intention of improving and honing our arguments also.  The resulting skills of persuasion might be essential in the debate over our future.

Transit for all: If urbanism has a rock star, it’s Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Columbia.  His innovations in Bogota changed the urbanism discussion in Latin American and his passion for city planning continues to stir audiences wherever he speaks.

Nor did Penalosa disappoint in Buffalo, including the use of his most well-known quote, “An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation.”  The audience rose in a standing ovation when he finished.

In my next post, I’ll write about how criticisms of CNU prove that the movement is gaining traction.

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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