Wednesday, June 22, 2016

CNU 24: Best Moments, Part 1

Campus Martius Park in the heart of downtown Detroit
Since my return from CNU 24, the annual gathering of the Congress for the New Urbanism recently concluded in Detroit, I’ve written about minor but inconvenient challenges of getting around town on foot and by transit and about a walk through the heart of downtown.  There is more that I can, should, and will share about the reality of Detroit in 2016, but now it’s time to sample the content of CNU 24.

I’ll begin my reporting with the first day of the congress.

In recent years, the first day has been presented in parallel tracks, one of which is called is called Urbanism 101 or the Core Sessions.  The target audience for the Core Sessions is first time attendees, with the goal providing a broad overview of urbanism for those whose prior introduction to urbanism might have been more limited.

However, the speakers lined up for the Core Sessions were among the leading lights of urbanism, making it hard for many, me included, to bypass the sessions.  The once-a-year chance to listen to Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, and Kaid Benfield holds too much attraction to be easily ignored.  Joe Minicozzi, who many in the North Bay heard speak on the finances of urbanism during the Urban Community Partnership meetings in Santa Rosa back in January, was also in the line-up

The first speaker on the first morning was Andres Duany, long-time partner in DPZ from Miami, an original signatory of the first Charter for the New Urbanism, and a seminal figure in the history of urbanism.  (As a local tie, DPZ was the firm that developed the form-based SmartCode, an alternative to zoning codes that better implements urbanism.  Petaluma was the first city in the country to adopt the SmartCode and Petaluma’s downtown continues to be governed by a later version.)

Many find Duany a little too proud of himself.  And I’ll admit there are times when his self-promotion can make me cringe.  But at the same time, I’ll argue that the role he has filled in the urbanist movement has required an outsized ego and that a self-effacing personality couldn’t have accomplished as much.  He was the man that the times required.

As a speaker, Duany is good at capturing complex ideas in compact nuggets, something like extended bon mots.  Some of his best follow below.

(Note: I wish I could offer direct quotes, but my stenography skills were never up to that task and have only declined over time.  So everything below, even when within quotations, is paraphrased to the best of my ability based on my notes.)

On why the Congress for the New Urbanism continues to attract many new members, but remains the same size: “Unlike other urbanist organizations, CNU makes the complex arguments about the entirety of the urbanism.  Those who want simpler answers, join CNU, sample the complexity, and then go to other organizations that focus on only one aspect of urbanism and therefore provide those simpler answers.”

On the relationship between urbanism and environmentalism: “The U.S. has a conflict with environmentalism that pits growth versus environmental protection.  Urbanism resolves that dispute by building cities that people love, limiting intrusions into the wilderness.”

On Donald Trump: “Trump represents a populism that CNU can’t ignore.”

On discomfort with developers and development: “The failure of suburbia led to a distrust of growth that urbanism must work to overcome.”

On the value of proximity: “At one time, there was value to proximity.  The automobile destroyed much of that value.  Urbanism works to restore it.”

Life-stage urbanism: “To be complete, urbanism must include provision for all life stages within walkable distances, from young adults seeking partners to families raising children to mature adults enjoying life successes to seniors need assistance.”

On the concern that promoting a walkable urban lifestyle means rejecting transportation technology:  “The Germans live in villages and still build Mercedes.”

I love these nuggets.  Every time I reread them, I find new insights and motivations.

My next post will cover upcoming opportunities for public involvement.  After that, I’ll return to quips and quotes from CNU 24.

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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