Friday, September 27, 2013

Andres Duany – Ego Not Optional

I recently attended a meeting about a North Bay land-use project.  As the group assembled and exchanged greetings, one of the participants noted a copy of “The Smart Growth Manual” on the table.  He pointed to the name of Andres Duany on the cover and made a derogatory comment about the size of Duany’s ego.  It seemed an odd comment, especially from someone who claimed to share much of Duany’s philosophy, but there was no opportunity to delve further.

Since then, I’ve thought several times about the comment.  I can’t disagree with the factual assertion.  Andres Duany is a notably egotistical human being.  I retain an image of Duany wearing an unvented white tuxedo jacket and smoking a big cigar while leaning against a wood fence at the concluding party after the 2013 annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism 21 (CNU 21). As a key founder of CNU and an aging lion of the new urbanism movement, he was looking with pride over what he had wrought.

But as much I agree that Duany has a giant ego, I can’t find a way to be disparaging about that fact.  To truly change the world requires an idea whose time has come and the self-confidence to continually push the idea even when much of the world isn’t interested in listening.

And Duany, with his cohort of other new urbanists, truly is changing the world.  The change is nowhere near complete, but the tone of the land-use conversation has changed because of Duany and others.  Which I think is a great thing.

Duany’s ego and still fertile thinking were on full display in the plenary talk that he gave at CNU 21.  Except a few Photoshop slides that he didn’t begin showing until he was nearly an hour into his speech, the YouTube file is audio only.  I’ll understand if only a few readers have the time or patience to listen to a 90-minute speech.  But there are some remarkable ideas that will reward the dedicated listener.

For those who don’t have the time or attention span to listen, a few highlights are:

++ Because the U.S., unlike Europe, still had areas of complete wilderness when the environmentalism first arose, American environmentalism is fundamentally different than other environmentalisms.  American environmentalism views every action by mankind as a negative, while other environmentalisms acknowledge a place for human beings in the environment.  As a result, American environmentalism is reaching a dead-end.  CNU can lead a way out of the dead-end by providing a role for human beings in the environment.  (Yeah, there’s a bit of ego in that statement.)

++ LEED-ND (Neighbor Development) may be technically accurate and valid, but if it doesn’t allow the development of a new Charleston, South Carolina, then it’s fatally flawed.

++ Urbanism is now a paradigm.  Many people and firms describe themselves relative to urbanism rather than relative to past land-use paradigms.

++ The world is excessively attached to high-tech solutions which are inherently maintenance-intensive and unstable.  It will become increasingly difficult to live in a world dependent on high-tech.  A key part of the future will be a reintroduction of low tech.  CNU owns low tech.  A key role of CNU will be to deliver a future in which the young can live. 

++ The 21st century began in 2008 with the collapse of the real estate bubble, the reaching of peak oil, and the growing awareness of climate change.  CNU has effective responses to all three.  The role of CNU will be to restore idealism about the future.

As he heads into his senior years, Duany remains a seminal figure.  Absolutely egotistical and absolutely worthy of attention.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

No comments:

Post a Comment