Live Blogging from CNU 19, Thursday

Day 2. Wow, is this place awesome!

I had to say goodbye to my colleague, Jon Commers, who was only able to spend a short time at the Congress this year. He promised me that next year (West Palm Beach) he would be there for the duration. Make your reservations now because CNU 20 is going to be great too.

Open Source

Today started with an Open Source plenary, which is a new emphasis at CNU on Open Source. We featured a post here earlier about Open Source from our friend Edward Erfurt, but to recap, Open Source turns the standard conference format inside out. It challenges the brilliant minds assembled at the conference to meet and discuss issues of concern to CNU and placemaking. Someone offers a topic and then people who are interested in that topic assemble to discuss.

For this session, I offered the topic "Complete Streets and New Urbanism" and was amazed at the quality of the people that showed up to discuss this. We had a number of engineers - so refreshing to have them here - along with a number of others, including CNU Board Chair Victor Dover. We identified three things that we need to do as New Urbanists:

  1. We need to apply the transect to the Complete Streets concept to fully develop the notion that a successful Complete Street must have a relationship to the adjacent land use.
  2. A good place to start this process is the Urban Thoroughfares Manual, a book put together by the Institute of Transportation Engineers and CNU. We need to apply the principles in this manual to Complete Streets.
  3. We need to have a conversation with Complete Streets and groups like Transportation for America to add a Complete Neighborhood / Land Use concept to their existing construct.

The greatest thing about New Urbanism is that it is not afraid to co-opt and improve upon other people's good ideas. Complete Streets is a good idea. Applying New Urbanist thinking, it can be a great idea.

Agrarian Urbanism

I'm following up on my interest on the Agrarian Urbanism concept by attending the session on it today. Andres Duany is the first speaker and I am recording him for a podcast. As usual, he is full of quotable statements. Here's one I paraphrase:

The New Urbanism is not about simple answers. NU adds about 600 members each year and loses about 400. We are better off without the 400 if they are looking for easy answers. There are none. This is a complex undertaking.

Duany describes four typologies consistent with the approach.

  1. Agricultural Retention - Save farmland where it is and keep it farming.
  2. Urban Agriculture - Food that is grown within an urban setting.
  3. Agricultural Urbanism - The population is not committed to growing food, but food is grown, somewhat as an added amenity.
  4. Agrarian Urbanism - A society that grows food. This is like the old village, which is a machine to grow and harvest food. Cities and towns did more, but a village existed just to grow food.

The village is the machine. If the Land Trust would buy the village and make it work, it would be much more effective than buying the farmland. Buying the village and making it work would destroy the market for the dumb subdivisions that crop up across the rural landscape.

He throws out an idea that he said was developed by Steve Mouzon to have the developer sell four-acre lots with the agreement that the land was to be subdivided seven more times. Each lot would have a pond  - this would allow people to develop their own little "utopia" as they see fit, on their budget, over time. An interesting idea - don't reject it out of hand because it is based on some old, fundamental principles that used to govern how this country was developed.

There is a huge diversity of what can be grown everywhere except large agribusiness and window box gardens. 

In order to overcome agribusiness, we need to have better definition to our urban boundaries. With people living on the edge of farms, it allows people to devote their leisure time that is now allocated to lawn maintenance to growing food.

Conservative Caucus Lunch

Just got back from the ad-hoc, and well-attended, Conservative Caucus lunch. This was a gathering off-site from the Congress and not affiliated with CNU, but we had a good turnout and a lot of discussion on how conservative principles - especially financially conservative principles - are consistent with a New Urbanist approach.

I'll throw in a quick disclaimer here that Strong Towns is a non-partisan organization, not endorsing any candidate or party, and that the views of our board and staff reflect a broad cross section of the political spectrum.

And this is kind of the point for getting together. CNU is not a Red or Blue organization and the principles in the Charter do not speak to a part or an affiliation. Much of the debate today in conservative circles (correctly) takes issue with rail projects, but does not apply the same rigor to highway projects. Many self-proclaimed conservatives oppose all land use regulation, except for the Euclidean zoning that their town has adopted. These views are more conservative (opposed to change) than they are truly fiscally conservative. Helping to illuminate that is something I am trying to do here in this space, now with the help and support of others at CNU.

Thanks to everyone that attended. We're now making this an annual event.

The New Urbanism and the Bicycle: A Dialogue

I got to this session late but was able to hear Mike Lydon (Street Plans Collaborative, Tactical Urbanism, Smart Growth Manual, Twitter) speak on biking. He said something here that he had relayed to me before, that being that the website People for Bikes is one of the most brilliant approaches to organizing social change that he has seen. Check out their website and you may agree.

As part of the Q&A, the panelists were asked what city in the United States was the most bike friendly. I'm sitting way in the back so I don't know the speakers' names, except Mike. The first said Minneapolis and the second said Madison. Mike disagreed on Madison and made the point that there are no bike-friendly cities, but there are bike friendly neighborhoods. He cites Portland as having places that are excellent, but outside of those it is terrible. Indicates that New York is the same.

Project Lodge - Pecha Kucha

The place to be right now - the place I am heading to - is the Project Lodge, which is located off-site at 817 East Johnson Street. (map) There a number of people, myself included, will be giving Pecha Kucha style presentations. I'm going to try and set up an audio recorder to capture the evening and, I promise, have a podcast update for people yet tonight. One possible microphone is dead somehow, so I'm going to have to improvise. No problem.