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Friday News Digest

As I prepare to walk out the door for a winter getaway with my family (although we do call it "spring break" here -- not sure why), I'm likely going to have to forsake the News Digest this week. My flight leaves in just ten hours and at some point I need to sleep a little and then pack my bags. I'm kind of disappointed too because the news this week was a treasure trove of riches for us to chat about. I'll try and do a catchup upon my return.

I can report with certainty that Monday's post will be the finale, finale, finale of the series we've been doing this year on the comparison between the old block and the new. Monday you will get "From the Mayor's Office (Part 3)", which I promise to make into a great podcast sometime soon. Then we get on to new things. Not sure what yet....that is what vacation is for.

I do want to share two things though before signing off. In response to Monday's post on the institutional malpractice of the engineering profession's continued embrace of the "forgiving design" approach to local roads and streets, I received a number of emails from people who said they were civil engineers. I'm going to share one quote (not including the name because I don't have permission and I doubt the individual is up this late to even ask).

I am sometimes embarrassed to be part of a profession that waited 40 to 50 years for research on whether or not their Forgiving Highway theories actually worked... and then, it wasn't the industry itself that explored the topic. It is almost criminal to think about how many people have died based on an untested application of Freeway Theory to urban streets.

Wow. I totally agree.

Finally, my friend George Linkert shared the following video on Facebook this week. I first saw this clip and heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson utter this statement on a National Geographic Channel show and it made me weep like a baby. They have added some cheesy background music very unnecessarily in this video, but is is still worth listening to. "Many people feel small because they are small and the universe is big, but I feel big."

The universe is in us. Peace to you all. Be back with you soon.


Planning to be in L.A. for the APA conference in April? Live in the Anaheim area? Are you a fan of Strong Towns and Walt Disney? As a fundraiser for Strong Towns, we are providing a special opportunity for six people to get a "planner's tour" of Disneyland. See the Happiest Place on Earth through the eyes of Strong Towns. Click here for more information and to register. This is going to be a really fun time.


CNU Board Voting

Change of plan for today; the person I had lined up to post bailed on me at midnight last night so today I'm going to do a brief post on something I care about: the CNU elections.

Many of you will be surprised to know that the Congress for the New Urbanism is a relatively young organization, having been founded only back in 1993. It has had a positive impact on the national conversation about the built environment disproportionate to its age. I plan to be in West Palm Beach this year for CNU 20 and hope to see you all there.

Last year at CNU 19 in Madison, I along with a number of CNU's NextGen group were invited to attend a meeting of the CNU Board where it was announced that, for the first time ever, there would be open elections among members for positions on the Board. As a young organization, positions had all been by appointment up until this point. This is a tremendous opportunity for those that value New Urbanism, but want to see it adapt to the changing economic realities, to get involved at a higher level.

Fortunately, two people with that vision have stepped forward. I have written letters of recommendation and have endorsed Eliza Harris and Edward Erfurt for the open seats. They both have an understanding of the problems we face as a country and how building strong towns plays such a critical role in dealing with them. They are both passionate about growing the movement, evolving CNU from a intellectual club of powerful thinkers to also include legions of people out there doing great work. And they are both great communicators that are approachable and generous with their time.

Voting is open now so, if you are a member to CNU, please go to their website and cast your vote. If you are not a member, you can join today for just $40 (that is a huge discount -- look for the Advocate level), then you can vote and then you can start putting plans together to attend CNU 20 in West Palm Beach, FL. I'm speaking at a session there as are many people that I find utterly fascinating, such as Richard Florida, Andres Duany and Steve Mouzon. 

Sign in and cast your vote for CNU Board.

Join CNU as an Advocate for just $40, then cast your vote.

Sign up to attend CNU 20 in West Palm Beach.

A little bit on why I am supporting Eliza and Edward...

Eliza is a tireless advocate. I really admire her passion and her commitment to building places of value. I have no doubt that she will work extremely hard if elected to the board, and I know she will advocate for the types of financial accountability in our places that we here at strong towns are focused on.

A quick story on her: I was in Orlando for a couple of days for a conference. Knowing I was relatively new to CNU, she got a hold of me and asked if we could meet. We had a nice breakfast where she patiently answered my questions, providing me a lot of insight and knowledge that I did not have (she's very intelligent). She then took me on a tour of the neighborhoods of Orlando, displaying not only patience with my constant questions but passion for the city, thoughtful critiques of the public realm and concrete suggestions for how to improve it. It was a delightful time made possible entirely by her generosity and commitment.

When I spoke last month at the Orlando area chapter of the CNU, she was not able to attend but she was far from forgotten. Whenever an important subject would come up, someone would say, "Eliza Harris is working on that...." or "Isn't Eliza tied in with them...." or "I think Eliza had a role in bringing that about, you should talk to her..." CNU would benefit tremendously from having her on the Board.

I also can't say enough good things about Edward. I don't think I've met someone who has a more intuitive grasp of what is going on in our places and what needs to be done, on a block by block level, to transform them into strong towns.

I first met Edward at a NextGen retreat in New Orleans. I was immediately taken in by his level of insight and his ability to communicate key New Urbanist understandings to someone like me (not your traditional New Urbanist).

On a walk through the city, he took the time to show me what -- in a very on-the-ground, block-by-block sense -- made New Orleans a great city. He answered my questions about layout and design. He pointed out subtle architectural features I would never have noticed. He made what would otherwise have been a normal walk home from dinner into a classroom on great urbanism. It is this generosity of spirit, deep knowledge base and ability to communicate that I believe would make Edward a valuable member of the CNU Board.

And I've seen him actually work on a project. He relentlessly looks for solutions (not the watered down win:win type but the kind that actually brings about substantive change) and, with both private and public sector experience, he understands how to navigate complex bureaucracies as well as complex projects to make things happen. There are few people I would rather have on a team than Edward.


While I don't know a lot of the other CNU Board candidates personally, I'm impressed with their accomplishments and their willingness to serve in this capacity. Voting in this way is a great opportunity and I'm grateful CNU has opted to open up this process. I've already voted for Eliza and Edward. Please cast a vote yourself.

I hope to see you all in West Palm Beach this May.


Radio Appearance: Butler on Business

A short announcement on our off day (we publish here normally on Monday, Wednesday and Friday)...

I'm going to be appearing on Butler on Business, an Atlanta-based talk show, during the 11:00 hour EST (10:00 CST) to talk about the Suburban Growth Ponzi Scheme. You can tune in about quarter past the hour at www.butleronbusiness.com to catch the live stream.