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CNU 20, Day 3

I promised our neglected podcast listeners that they would receive a little more attention while I was at CNU 20 and I've delivered a down payment on that promise. Not only did I record a new session before I left (actually two, but I'm saving on for release next week - sorry), but I've now posted four of the NextGen sessions from the first day of the Congress.

These guys are all my friends, but they are also brilliant thinkers. I hope you enjoy them -- more to follow shortly.


We just got done with the big group photo. You know how at family reunions they make everyone crowd together for a big group shot -- imagine that with a bunch of New Urbanists. Then throw in an eight foot diameter beach ball and something that feels like the awkward moments of the movie Christmas Vacation. Loved it, actually.

I've migrated to the session on Transect Principles, which is a subject I am still struggling to fully grasp, although I am starting to have the sinking feeling that it is not my lack of understanding but that I am looking for something that is not there. Don't get me wrong; I think it is brilliant and the people that have put it together and sheer genius. I'm not sure what it is, specifically, that gives me hesitation but it feels like we are still too obsessed with alternative models of greenfield development.

I'm really here to get my Duany fix. I was really frustrated yesterday to have to miss Duany speaking in what I was told was "vintage Andres" and a real "tour de force". Hopefully that is available by video.


One thing I'm more plugged into this year than in prior years is the Twitter feed. I'm going to share that here because there is a lot of great sutff there. The hashtag for the conference is #CNU20.


For those of you that, like me, are huge fans of the Kunstlercast, Jim and Duncan are going to be putting together a podcast in Room 1J here at 12:30. I was scolded by Duncan for my old school recording methods, despite having high quality equipment. He says that makes all podcasters look bad. He's right. I'm going to be consulting with him shortly on how to up my game.


I've joined the Adaptation and Resilience session here after a NextGen planning lunch. On that last item, if you want to be part of a great discussion this evening, NextGen is planning a conversation at the Art of New Urbanism (following the opening ceremony) this evening at 7:30 PM. The discussion will be on the BIG NextGen initiative; a new vision for the next version of American prosperity. Without consulting with my NextGen pals in specific (so these are my thoughts), I would categorize the prior phases (acknowleding the WASP-centric domination of this narrative, which is what the narrative actually was) as:

  1. Colonization -- The promise of a new world.
  2. Westward expansion -- The promise of prosperity for all willing to work for it.
  3. Suburbanization -- The promise of a higher quality of life for the average American.
  4. (NEW) Next America -- Real improvement in our quality of existence, an operating system for our existing places that provides for continual, incremental improvement of the human condition. 

This will be an interesting discussion. There are a lot of really bright people committed to building on this concept and embedding it in the CNU (or taking it elsewhere, although I believe the CNU is ready for this change in conversation.)

Back to the session....A term came up that I had heard before -- Jevon's Paradox -- but had not really explored to any degree. Here is an article from the New Yorker that touches on it (something to come back to later). The concept, as briefly postulated here, is that the more efficiently a resource can be used, the more of that resource will be used. The first thing that came to my mind: corn. Let me know if this is a topic that has deep relevance that we should explore here.

Karja Hanson brings up the transition town movement. She calls it economic secession, which is not perhaps how they themselves would categorize it, but is a provocative concept. She claims that some of them have rejected paying taxes since the taxes are being used to promote destructive development practices. Maybe a way to unite Agenda 21 and the communists?

I've been sitting next to Jim Kunstler, who I've been able to speak with a little and find just as enjoying in person as I do in print and podcast. I'm recording this session so I'll share his stuff. He does a lot of public speaking and I've heard him a ton (never bore of it) and so I'm most interested in how you keep things fresh going over it again and again for different audiences. That's a challenge I've faced. Hopefully I can chat with him and learn how he does it, because it always sounds good.

Some quotes:

  • America has taking gambling from a marginal activity and made it central to our lives, even how we fund things through the government, reinforcing the notion that we can get something for nothing. 
  • There is a destructive notion that "they" are going to come up with something and save us. This is techno narcissism. It's not going to happen.
  • How long can we continue to be a nation of overfed clowns? Our men today are dressing like babies, a destructive trend. We need to man up.

Jim's latest book, Too Much Magic, is coming out in June. Can't wait.

Duncan Crary, host of the Kunstlercast and author of the book by the same name. Refers to the website Stuff White People Like, #18 of which is "raising awareness". Great speaker and fun stories -- catch our podcast. 

Duncan is a publicist and talked about the "stunts" that he has done as part of that. He talked about his summer project of riding on a tugboat. Him and I talked about it on our podcast this past winter. I got to see a website he is setting up and the audio that goes with it -- really fascinating stuff. It is a project that is going to bring a lot of insight -- both current and for posterity, really -- to a way of life that used to be far more common. The website for the undertaking is canalers.com. I'm hoping to do another podcast with him on this subject in the near future.

Duncan Crary at CNU 20.

I'm headed to an open source session at 3:45 with some great people from Memphis to talk about ways we can do some low cost, high leverage projects there to help them reach a tipping point on their path to becoming a strong town. Anyone is welcome so, if you are here, come on down to the first floor and join us.


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Reader Comments (5)

Chuck, when I asked (via Twitter) whether audio or video of sessions would be available online, @newurbanism said: "The majority of sessions will be put together in webcast format for viewing post-Congress. Stay tuned..." Hope so, as I'd like a Duany fix too. Thanks for all your efforts from the conference, wish I could be there.

May 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTracy Davis

Jevons paradox is something I have thought a lot about since reading Green Metropolis. There are aspects of that book I find very misguided now that I have become more familiar with the new urbanist approach, which questions the long term viability of mega towers to achieve density (which are largely championed in the book). However David Owen goes into the issue of Jevons paradox quite a lot in discussing efficiency efforts that have failed to produce outcomes that really reduced carbon emissions. And also quite a lot about the folly of LEED standards which do not account for how people get to buildings, which LEED ND championed by CNU now addresses.

My own thoughts about Jevons paradox as of last year are found here on a post I wrote for Santa Monica Patch.

I've come to believe the only way we reduce energy use enough to meaningfully tackle the problems ahead of us is through taxing energy use much more heavily. Instituting higher efficiency standards on cars as we have done, without higher gas taxes, may just induce more driving that would have otherwise occurred, and not significantly tackle energy use. Politicians are unwilling to touch gas taxes with a ten foot pole, but a believe if we raised gas taxes, or instituted a carbon tax system, while at the same time offsetting taxation elsewhere, we could keep tax level roughly the same but shift tax burden, to tax "bads" more heavily rather than "goods".

The CEO of GM also supported raising the gas tax a full dollar as an alternative to the new CAFE standards, because at least a gas tax makes buying a new more fuel efficient car more enticing. There is not as much incentive to buy a more efficient car without more expensive gas, and CAFE standards are more complex to deal with as it measures averages across the fleet. A flat tax bump is simple to plan around, and is only way to actually shift toward less energy use.

I do believe some level of government intervention is required here, because the market left to it's own devices will nearly always value profit in the present at the expense of the future, and any generations yet to come, who have no say in the matter of whether we presently save any energy resources for future use. The reckless abandon with which we are now using resources can be viewed as a sort of wealth pump that takes from future potential to enrich the present, and I can't imagine this being corrected by a profit driven market left to it's own devices.

May 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGary Kavanagh

Hi Chuck, Engaging blog, great links, nice to meet you in WPB. I'm not sure what about the Transect session made you feel that we are moving too far toward greenfield, but all my work with the SmartCode is for existing towns and cities, and the Transect-based Neighborhood Conservation Code is infill only. In other words, we have (open source) an infill-only SmartCode and we do NOT have a greenfield-only SmartCode. I hope we can communicate that message better in the future.
Cheers, Sandy

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSandy Sorlien

Sandy -- I am admitting my ignorance here when it comes to this, although I am not sure that is a good thing (since I'm not that dumb and I have tried to tie it together in my head). I hear you when it comes to working in cities, and I do appreciate the good work that you and others are doing, I'm just struggling myself with a unified theory of development.

If you look to physics, we have a branch that deals well with interactions between large objects and a branch that deals with the interactions of small objects, but nothing that unifies the two, despite a lot of struggle.

I can't get over the feeling that we're trying too hard to unite the two types of codes when they should simply be separate branches of expertise. I don't say that with a particular example and would not dare to debate the subject at length, but this is my arm's length observation.

May 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCharles Marohn

Chuck, if you're saying that we should stop trying to understand "the Transect" as fractal, I agree. I don't think it advances the practice to do that. I don't think the kinds of centers at the regional scale are analogous to those at the pedshed scale. Nor are front-to-back transects of individual lots helpful to understanding how to code for complete neighborhoods, including downtowns, with several distinct habitats in proximity. Leave the character / style / materials of the individual buildings to architects and builders; the SmartCode doesn't deal with that except to allocate appropriate types (i.e., rural or sub-urban or urban types). It is interesting and even useful to draw and analyze a transect on a region, but it is an entirely different transect for a different purpose. It isn't the T-zones.

In the session, we seemed to be settling on "Local Transect" and "Regional Transect" as ways to distinguish, but we need a diagram as powerful as the DPZ Local Transect to make people get that they are different, so they'll stop trying to apply the Local Transect to regions.

Do you agree with this approach?

May 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSandy Sorlien
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