Congress for the New Urbanism – Wrap-Up

Buffalo AerialCongress for the New Urbanism was founded in 1993 as an urban design reform and education movement. In re-introducing human-scale design and development, and bringing international focus to “sprawl costs us all,” CNU has been revolutionary. iIt deserves great praise.

People and organizations must evolve to remain successful. CNU’s time to change is upon us. This was a theme expressed vociferously among many at the Congress.

For this correspondent, a member since 1997, the new mission is best expressed by Jeff Speck in “Walkable City.” Paraphrasing, he says we know how to build better cities for people (and not just for their cars), but there remains a huge disconnect between what we know about livable cities (and the growing market desire for them), and those who are empowered to approve and finance them.

CNU must lead the effort to make this connection. The days of the Congress being principally an internally focused educational salon need to be behind us.

A couple of examples – CNU gives many awards for project plans, and few for projects built. Planning them is important, but building them is far more so. For those few awarded built projects, where is the general contractor? The lender? The developer and investor? They should be on the stage being applauded.

What instead? CNU must identify all the blockage points to walkable urbanism, identify the key players needed to remove the disconnects, and build the political and business coalition that makes walkable urbanism – not sprawl – the norm.

We must measure our progress toward our goals at each Congress, and re-set our goals for the coming year. The Congress must be almost exclusively about goals and achievement of them.  It must become a congress of its members.

The 2014 CNU will be in Buffalo.

Congress for the New Urbanism – Day 2

TraxDay Two of Congress for the New Urbanism in Salt Lake City began with a 2 hour “State of CNU” presentation by one of the founders, Andres Duany of Miami. Duany is the most articulate and unalloyed spokesman for the movement.

His message was direct and sobering, yet creative and hopeful. The $8 trillion loss is U.S.real estate value in 2007-8 has changed the landscape forever. His theme is “lean” urbanism and lifestyle. Re-use. Re-purposing. Simplicity. Local. Vernacular. Self-sufficient. All of which points to the walkable, complete neighborhood as the most efficient and enjoyable way to live.

Duany is brilliant, and spoke of a possible book “Lean.” Let’s hope he writes it!

An afternoon session on institutional investment in New Urbanism, along with an evening dinner gathering on barriers to financing “Main Street” yielded similar conclusions. Investment managers like “asset categories,” and there is not one for Main Street neighborhood-based development. So, CNU must work with the finance industry to see the reduced risk and resiliency benefits of mixed-use, mixed-income projects.

The best reason to believe this effort might succeed is that market research shows conclusively that each year, more and more Americans of all ages say this is how they want to live – walking to meet most of their daily needs.

The leaders behind Envision Utah, a 1997 effort that created a regional vision for the Wasatch Mountain Front from Ogden to Provo (where 80% of their population lives) outlined their original expectations, and actual results in 15 years. Very impressively, the gains in better air quality, lower water usage, more transit trips, fewer vehicle miles traveled per household, and job creation, have exceeded expectations.

Congress for the New Urbanism – Salt Lake City


The 21st Congress for the New Urbanism kicked off in Salt Lake City on May 29th. CNU was founded in 1993 to advocate building our country and world in increments of complete, walkable, connected neighborhoods – as we did for centuries prior to the domination of automobility. CNU has over 5,000 global members.

The annual Congress is held in a different city each year. Salt Lake City is a surprisingly diverse, cosmopolitan city that leads the U.S. in construction of new rail transit. Envision Utah, a regional plan adopted in 1997, has the goal for all cities in the 80 miles from Ogden south to Provo to grow in and up, and not out. This will take a century, but the beginnings are visible on the train ride from the airport to Downtown.

Mayor Ralph Becker, in office for 5 years, has an urban design background. He welcomed the attendees, and said their community will welcome our recommendations on how to become even better.

Author Richard Louk of “Last Child in the Woods” fame, urged CNU in a keynote address to lead a new environmentalism – “forward” to nature, not back, by making cities ecologically diverse and more connected to nature. Louk’s concept of “nature deficit disorder” in young people is leading to reforms in education and pediatrics across the U.S. and the world. The vast majority of young people on our planet have zero connection with nature, with devastating results for their physical and mental health.

Of course, New Urbanists have always known that walkable cities are healthier cities. Here’s another way to make them even healthier!

Our Thoughts on “Step It Up Albuquerque”

Greetings Mayor Berry,

I support your call to get healthy and fit! Thank you for suggesting it.

Wouldn’t it be great if our City were designed to make walking both interesting and practical?

What if Albuquerque were a City of neighborhoods that were a 5-10 minute walk from center to edge, where many or even most of life’s daily needs were available with a pleasant walk or bike ride (while still preserving the choice to drive)?

Everyone would benefit, especially the younger, the older, and the less well off! They can’t drive, or can’t afford to drive.

Right now our City is designed to require the mobilization of a vast fleet of motor vehicles, every single day, just to perform simple daily tasks – including going to school.

Mayors and City Councils across the land are taking practical steps to convert driving trips to walking trips – not by government fiat, but by simply making walking easier, safer, and more pleasant through design and through proper zoning laws. And when walking becomes pleasant, transit systems start picking up more riders.

We can start by making “Put the Pedestrian First” the core principle of the Route 66 Action Plan. The future of Route 66 is not motor vehicles – it’s pedestrians.

Congress for the New Urbanism ( has advocated the economic development potential of “walkable urbanism” for 20 years. Their 2013 meeting is May 29-June 1st, right up the road in Salt Lake City.

I will be there. Please join me. You will meet a lot of interesting folks, and learn a lot about what’s going on around the country with our economic leaders.

Sincerely and with best regards, Rob

Rob Dickson
Paradigm & Company
New Urbanism/Traditional Neighborhood Development

Sustainable Street Networks

The street network is a fundamental part of human civilization. It serves as the setting for both commerce and culture. Congress for the New Urbanism has compiled a set of principles and key characteristics of the sustainable street network into a document that is practical, inspirational, and beautifully illustrated.  Read it here …

University Urbanism

What if Central Avenue across from UNM were one of our country’s greatest “town & gown” intersections?  What if it was a great urban street, constantly and inevitably occupied by citizens of all ages and backgrounds, in a shared and memorable public space?  Here’s what one Georgia university and city did to make this happen.  UniversityUrbanism

Sprawl – Choice or Bureaucratic Inertia?

Sprawl isn’t so much a deliberate choice as it is a product of bureaucratic inertia.

THESE SHOULDN’T be controversial statements – gasoline isn’t getting cheaper; land is finite and exhaustible, so sprawl is a waste of land; building new roads and sewer lines is more expensive than using the ones that already exist; it’s no fun to sit in traffic. The logical end of these statements, that we need to find more efficient and more productive ways to construct buildings, shouldn’t be politically divisive, either.

But in Washington, there’s a vast difference between the way things should work and the way things do work. For example, there’s no logical reason why Sustainable Communities, a modest Obama administration effort to encourage efficient patterns of real estate development, should be a political lightning rod. There isn’t anything political about smart growth. The program was nevertheless shredded to appease the Tea Party.

The Sustainable Communities program should have been a chance for tree huggers and budget hawks to hold hands and play nicely together. The program broke down bureaucratic silos and coordinated policies across federal environmental, housing, and transportation agencies. It doled out small grants to municipalities, regional planners, and nonprofits engaged in anti-sprawl planning. Before having its funding rescinded by Congress earlier this month, it was operating on a $100 million budget – a pile of crumbs, by federal standards.


Wall Street Journal: “Brain-Hub Cities Attract Jobs”

Are Albuquerque and New Mexico being left in our own dust?

Read more …

What’s the real purpose of a Modern Streetcar? Redevelopment, of course!

See what our neighbor Tucson is doing with theirs – when will Albuquerque get smart?

Read more …

The geography of housing recovery favors cities and walkable neighborhoods

Convenience matters to homebuyers.  On average, travel distances are shorter in central jurisdictions and transit, biking and walking alternatives to driving more plentiful; jobs, shopping and amenities are likely to be closer.  Density tends to be higher, although both DC and Arlington have plenty of single-family homes. The two jurisdictions that have made the next strongest recoveries are Alexandria and Fairfax County in Virginia, both relatively close to Washington and each a mixture of urban and suburban areas.

Read more …

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