I am now here on site in downtown Denver and, as promised, am going to be blogging from the Congress of the New Urbanism conference. Things are off to a great start here, but I have not been able yet to get my internet connection to work well in the conference rooms. As such, I have run back up to my room here to jot down my notes from the day while everyone else has social hour prior to the evening session.
There are a lot of really cool social technology things that the people here are doing that I will try to get this blog, and you readers, plugged in to. There is a lot of on-line social networking going on with the idea of continuing some of the really good discussions going on throughout the Congress and beyond. When I get those connections, I'll get them posted.
The Next Generation of New Urbanists: A One-Day Congress
This was a very interesting forum for meeting a bunch of really intelligent people and chatting about different topics. Getting here when I did, I did not make it to the entire event, but what I did participate in was stimulating. By the time I arrived, they had derived a number of different topics out of earlier discussions. You then self-sorted into group by topic and basically had an open discussion. An interesting format made all the more interesting by the fact that there are some pretty intelligent people here. Some things I walked away with:
- In small towns we always struggle with DOT's and just highway construction in general and how it just never seems to fit into the context of the community. Engineers (I am one) are taught to built roads straight and build them wide. One of the participants showed me a booklet called the Smart Transportation Guidebook developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that, from my quick browsing, attempts to address some of these issues. Check it out - I will, and if it has some good stuff, I will blog about it some day in the future.
- We talked about financing highway improvements and it just then occurred to me the incentives that are built into our system. We all know that DOT's get their revenue from the gas tax. I have never really thought about there being an incentive there for DOTs' to essentially encourage more Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) as a way to increase their revenue. Now, I'm not suggesting a conspiracy, but it is true that the result of DOT policies has been to increase VMT and thus increase gas tax paid. What if DOT was funded through property tax and the incentive was to increase property value, not VMT, relative to each project. It is an interesting thought that takes you in many directions. No time to go there now - perhaps later.
- Supposedly Pennsylvania DOT is broke and this has spawned a whole series of reforms. Again, something that we should take a look at, but according to participants the progress they have shown in speeding up projects and discerning what is a priority has been tremendous.
- Reportedly Texas DOT is also going broke. I tend to believe that, given the crazy highway spending I say on my recent vacation there. If anyone has any specific information on Pennsylvania or Texas DOT financial problems, I'd love to review it.
- Finally, a great quote from this session about seizing this opportunity to make some positive change:
A recession is a terrible thing to waste.
Opening Plenary: Accelerating the Reurbanization of America
Just got back from the opening plenary - some more good stuff. But first, however, I need to go and eat (sorry there team). I'll finish up this entry when I get back.
Last night I ate at the ESPN restaurant and got to catch my Twins come back and beat the Oakland Athletics. By the time I got back, finished my "work" work, I bowed to the fact that three hours of sleep was just not enough. So here is my notes from yesterday, a day late.
The first speaker last night was the chair of CNU (sorry, I did not catch his name), but he started off the discussion with a great quote (a trend I will talk about in the next post):
The country has found out what the "real" in real estate means.
In many ways, this conference is a breath of fresh air.
The room rose to its feet and gave the guy that did the CNU video I posted here a few weeks ago a standing ovation. They showed the video and, like watching a good movie in a theatre full of the target audience, watching it with that group was fun. I'll post it here at the end again so you can rewatch it.
The Mayor of Denver spoke next and had a good story. He quoted Lincoln in talking about how he was able to enact a New Urbanist agenda through parts of the city (I'll talk more about that in the next post too). I looked up the exact Lincoln quote, which goes like this:
"Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed."
It struck me as an important quote, especially in small towns where public sentiment can at times be brutal, unfair and (pardon me, no offense) uninformed. Despite, planners would be better off remembering this wise insight and adjusting accordingly.
The next speaker was the Republican Mayor of Charlotte North Carolina. I mention his party because everybody at the conference did. And it is true, a Republican New Urbanist is a rare thing (I should know). I loved his vision, which opened by stating that these were not partisan issues. He called on people to think long-term and noted that when we make bad public investments, more government money is used to rebuild them. Amen.
Another amen to the Mayor when he talked about his approach to city-building. It starts and ends with the vision, connecting you actions along the way in a methodology that builds, grows and learns. It is exactly what Community Growth Institute has been talking about with the Five-Year Planning Cycle. In another CGI echo, he called on planners to stop using a "project mentality", which is the myopic problem of focusing on a project as an end unto itself. All projects need to be looked at through the prism of the vision. I really like this guy.
The next speaker went through the history of CNU, which is something I am here to understand. Refreshingly for the Strong Town movement we are pushing, CNU began with six people who invited 100 to a meeting. He had people in attendance stand based on the year they first started attending. It seemed like about a third of those in attendance were, like me, new to the Congress. Amazing. There are 3000 people attending CNU 17, and the confidence in the air is that of a movement whose time has arrived.