Monday, June 9, 2014

CNU 22: Shuffling Home from Buffalo

I recently wrote that I’d be traveling to the 22nd annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism, familiarly known as CNU 22.  I’ve now returned from CNU 22, this year held in Buffalo, New York, re-inspired by the challenges and promises of urbanism.

Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be writing about CNU 22.  Not with every post, but regularly.

Starting in my next post, I`ll offer a smattering of brief moments from CNU 22, the quips, bon mots, and quirky observations through which I’ll try to impart the feeling of attending a congress.

Later on, as I decipher my forty pages of dubiously-legible notes, I’ll dig deeper into individual topics that caught my attention, particularly those that have applicability to the North Bay.

For today, I want to touch only upon only few key points.

First is a matter of terminology.  From its beginning, this blog has added the tag of “new urbanism” to every post.  Within the texts of the posts themselves, I usually shortened my usage to “urbanism”, but the tag still contained the modifier “new”, with new urbanism signifying the attempt to apply to our contemporary world the successful elements of urbanism from earlier times.

But one of the themes of CNU 22 was that we may have gone too far in the identification of multiple strains of urbanism.  Lean urbanism.  Tactical urbanism.  Eco urbanism.  Landscape urbanism.  And many more, including new urbanism.  While each type of urbanism has valid insights to offer, the suggestion was made that we should focus on the “urbanism” that is common to all of us rather than on the modifiers that may seem to divide us.

 I concurred with the suggestion.  Starting with this post, my tag will become the single-word “urbanism”.  It seems to cut to the heart of the matter.

Next, listening to the experiences of many speakers led me to ponder my own urbanist activities.  By my nature, I’m most comfortable at a keyboard, tossing out ideas in the hope that a reader will grab an idea of personal interest and make something of it.

But changes aren’t made by being comfortable.  Plus, while I garner many nods of concurrence, there have been few examples of readers taking an idea between their teeth and running with it.

So I’ll begin putting more effort into implementing some of the ideas that I offer.  Not every idea, there’s not enough time in my day for that level of involvement, but some of the ideas.

Coincidentally, even before I departed for Buffalo, several activities were progressing to a point where my personal involvement was justified.  So my philosophical insight lined up well with circumstances.  Details about some of these Petaluma initiatives will be forthcoming in future weeks.  None will be world-changing in themselves, but the world is often best modified in small increments.

Lastly, the words of several speakers motivated me to remake a point that I’ve try to argue before, but never as well as I might have hoped.

Some supporters of drivable suburbia have tried to argue that urbanism is the movement of people back into urban centers.  The argument allows them to point to every example of gentrification dispute, infrastructure overloading, or transit deficiency as a failure of urbanism.

But it’s a straw man argument that they’re making.  People are moving into urban areas because of demographics.  Increasingly, the jobs are in urban areas.  Plus, the millennial generation is interested in lifestyles that are less car-dependent, preferring to spend their income on the newest tech devices, not car payments and parking.

Urbanism isn’t about the move; it’s about accommodating the move efficiently and effectively.  So the issues highlighted by urbanist opponents, the hiccups over gentrification, infrastructure, and transit, aren’t the failure of urbanism, they’re the failure of the community to recognize the need for urbanism and to implement it.

And that’s a failure that I’ll continue trying to help us overcome.

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

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