Live Blogging from CNU 19, Saturday

Last day for me here in Madison. I've been here since Tuesday and, while this Congress has been amazing, I miss my family back home and am going to be happy to be back on the road headed towards the woods in Central Minnesota this evening. There are so many amazing people here -- both ones I have known a while and ones I just met -- and I know my mind is going to be filled with all the thoughts and ideas that have come from these connections for a long, long time.

And I think that may be the best way to start this last day - the people. One thing about the New Urbanism is that it has grown far beyond its architectural roots. That is by design, because New Urbanism is more about life than it is about the narrow focus of architecture, however important it may be. As New Urbanism has grown, it has picked up a broader and broader group of adherents. I have met people here that are engineers and planners like myself, but also people with backgrounds as diverse as communications, music and economics. You embed people with this broad of a background on the loose framework of a Congress that is intentionally designed for the exchange of ideas, and you have a gathering that is more valuable and productive than anything else I have ever attended.

If you are one of those that have been following CNU 19 through my eyes, I am very thankful you are here. Taking notes in this way has always helped me digest what is going on, but the fact that so many others find value in them as well compels me. That being said, if you are not here in Madison but potentially have the means to make it to West Palm Beach next year for CNU 20, do something important for yourself, for me and for everyone else engaged in building Strong Towns by planning to be at the next Congress. We all benefit from the incubation and dissemination of ideas that goes on here and you will add to that exponentially by your presence. May 9-12, 2012 - start making your plans now.

So here we go - Day 4.

Open Source

I started an Open Source session today based on the book Switch and focusing on the large issue of how do we change the "elephant" of society at large and "clear the path" so that people want to choose more productive living patterns. We had a great conversation, which I would summarize with the findings 1) end peverse subsidies, 2) fix urban schools and 3) 

We're going to be continuing this conversation online in one forum or another. If you were part of this conversation or my prior Open Source group on Complete Streets, OR if you are interested in being part of these ongoing, informal discussions, please email me at When we get the online forum up and running, we'd be glad to include you in the conversation.

Bikeability: What it's Worth

One of the NextGen people I really admire (I admire them all, actually) is Eliza Harris (Twitter). She's been very kind to me in sharing her time and enthusiasm to get me integrated into CNU. She's also a fellow conservative-minded person and we've had some delightful conversations on the intersection of conservative thinking and New Urbanism. Very engaging.

Eliza moderated a session on bikeability - something outside of my core area of knowledge and competency, but something I need to know more about. I'm recording the session, but here are my notes.

Randy Neufeld, SRAM Cycling Fund, was the first speaker. He had some great photos and examples, but I'll summarize his talk with a primary strategy that I really liked: Take people on a trip. We need to get our public officials out into communities to see how things like biking are done in successful places.

Jonathan Patz, MD, talked about some of the health benefits of cycling and reducing auto travel. Some interesting statistics and observations on "natural experiments" like Yom Kippur, where people reduced driving for religous reasons and there were large measurable benefits in asthma-related and other emergency room visits.

Maggie Grabow, states that 40% of all car trips are 2 miles or less, 50% of the population commutes five miles or less. How do we replace these car trips with bicycle trips? She did a model to see what would happen if one in five trips were replaced -- not a radical amount. The result was that hundreds of deaths were prevented, hundreds of thousands of fewer hospital admissions and billions of dollars in savings. I really don't question such radical results - just the activity alone would be a dramatic change from what most people get. And how easy is this?

Sara Rider, Saris Cycling Group, a company from here in Madison, discussed an incentive program that they put in place to encourage people to bike. Intersting approach and I can see the appeal to the culture of a bike equipment manufacturing company, but I have an incentive program that would be less complicated and more effective for the broader population - $5 gasoline. Here is a cool video that she shared:

A lot of these speakers promoted a group called Bikes Belong, so I'll link to that website for you to check it out.

My colleague Jon Commers just sent me a Tweet asking about cold weather urbanism. I'm going to ask a question on cold weather biking, Jon, when we get to Q&A. Here's the feedback from the group:

Many cold climate cities are big into cycling. As you go further north in Europe, cycling often increases. Also, we should not look at it as an either or - bike most of the year, but you might not be able to do all. Also, communities that get out and plow right away show a dedication to biking. Wear warm clothes and it is actually easier to do than skiing, snowshoeing or fishing.

Urban Agriculture Design Elements

I have not had a chance to talk much with one of the guys I admire the most, Steve Mouzon, and even had to miss his session earlier today, so I could not pass up the opportunity to come to this session that he was part of.

Lisa Taranto started off the conversation by talking about water (scarcer than you would think) and gas. Interesting fact: 1 barrel of oil yields 42 gallons of gas, which is the equivalent of 25,000 embodied man-hours of energy. This equals 12 people working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks per year.

Horticulture is the slowest of all performing arts. 

She had a great talk that I found myself simply listening to (podcast to come), but she did make a book recommendation that I will pass on here: Dirt, The Erosion of Civilizations.  

Steve Mouzon - Most food would need a passport to get to you. Most foods we eat take over three weeks and travel over 1,500 miles to get to you. Preservatives and genetic modifications have distorted what we eat. Food security is becoming important the way energy security became important years ago. Who wants to live within 10 miles of where they spray pesticides and herbicides? 

Efficiency: The current food system is efficient if you look at it in terms of man hours. Bio-intensive agriculture is much more efficient in terms of land area. The industrial food chain is also very inefficient - 80 calories of input needed to bring in 1 calorie of food. We can't pay people low enough in this country to make industrial agriculture work, so we have exported a lot of the production. We can feed about 1 or 2 people per acre using industrial agriculture. Using a bio-intensive approach, we can feed 20 people per acre.

Steve posed a question that we need to ask: What is the local cuisine? Or what should it be? I've been thinking about this a lot as I have two little girls that eat fruit by the pint. Strawberries, blueberries, cantelope, etc... all stuff that we do not grow locally. If this stuff becomes too expensive or is just not available, what do we do then?

Just as a reminder to everyone, you can get more of Steve Mouzon online at

Battery dead - thank you for following Strong Towns at CNU 19.