Today I will be able to be a little more faithful with the blogging live from the convention center here in West Palm Beach. NextGen has become such an immersive experience for me (and many others) that I just did not have enough time to sit back and document what I am seeing the way that I have been able to in the past. I'm becoming a creature whose life often allows only thoughts at 140 characters, a constraint I'm not quite comfortable with. Hopefully I never will be.
I did skip the pub crawl last night so I could get caught up some as well as get a new podcast posted (Mike Lydon at NextGen9) and do a short post to help my friends in Memphis in their search for a tipping point.
This morning I did my weekly radio segment on KAXE and so am a little late getting here to the big show. Now that I've arrived, I'm waiting for Andres Duany as he is introduced. These are my people, but I'm still a little bit of an outsider with the old architect clique -- brilliant as they most certainly are -- and so the inside jokes and hand wringing over stylistic nuance generally pass me by. There is a big part of me that is resisting becoming "cultured" in this way. I'll be back live blogging with a fury, I'm certain, when we finally get to Duany.
Okay, when I live blog a Duany speech I sometimes would simply do better to just use twitter as you are going to get a lot of one-liners, deeply biting and insightful. What you are going to get here is going to be a little stream of consciousness.
On the Smart Code, as it was conceived, has a lot of slack and a lot of ways to get out of it. Duany has said that he only intervenes in the debate over coding to promote diversity. We need flexibility and options.
Some people think that if we don't code, the world will be set free and thing will be better (I sometimes fall into that camp). Duany argues that the default setting in America, with suburban development, gives rise to local aristocracies where we are all subject to bureaucrats. Would rather have a thick code to follow instead of the bureaucrats. We are a nation of laws and what the Smart Code is about is exchanging bad good with good code.
The bureaucracy is never going away. The French revolution did not get rid of the French bureaucracy. When the Soviet Union fell, it did not destroy the bureaucracy. It endured. Our bureaucracy is not going away.
We can't educate every planning department and every bureaucrat in the country. All 140,000 of them are not going to come to CNU. What we can do is change what they are administering. (Change the default operating system, as we say here at Strong Towns).
The Smart Code provides for fractal complexity. It ensures complexity. (This is the great feature of it, IMO, and I agree with Duany intensely on the need for this.)
The 27,000 local planning departments are there to administer this stuff for us. And they are conditioned to follow the codes. We are ludicrous not to use this. They are going to administer something; we need to make it our system.
The Smart Code is designed to run on the current grid.
The Smart Code requires local calibration. It defaults to a pretty decent midwestern town, but it can be calibrated for very diverse places. If you can't calibrate the Smart Code, it is because you lack a vision for what things should be. If you can't communicate, it is not because the English language is somehow bad. Same with the Smart Code; it will allow you to describe whatever the vision is.
The Smart Code needs to be freeware. It needs to spread. And it can actually be calibrated for $7,000. The politics can't be done for $7,000 -- or maybe even $700,000 -- but it can be calibrated easily out of the box. That is critical in the current economy.
There is 30-60% of people that don't want what we want. We need to protect their right to that. People need a choice. (What is unsaid here is that the 40-70% of others want what we want -- good urbanism -- but are not getting it with today's codes. It is implied, but I did not want to put those words in his mouth.)
Duany is making a complex argument on being able to opt out of coding, particularly in places like New Orleans. I'm recording this on audio and will make this available later because it is too complex for a quick blog post here but is something that needs to be known. I'll try to summarize by saying that the best places have this complexity that is not only part of coding, but part of how places are put together. It can't all be with 30 year mortgages and building codes.
The New Urbanism of today should be built on the 19th Century chasis. We should not lead with "green" but with something that is "lean", because lean is green.
Next year CNU is in Salt Lake City. There is so much to learn from the Mormon block and the entire Mormon system of planning their original places, all of which were successful and survive today. Nobody else has done this at this scale -- not the Greeks or the Romans or anyone. We need to learn this all over again.
We are now going into the Open Space session, one of my favorite parts of the Congress. I am going to be participating in this so I'm going to go offline here for a while. Make sure and follow the ongoing Twitter feed. You can connect to me at @clmarohn and follow the Congress at #CNU20.
I attended the Open Source session with Victor Dover, President of CNU and a really great guy. He asked me to take notes and then got a little freaked out when I pulled out my computer -- I think he was worried I would be blogging our making-sausage-like conversation, which is really not how I roll (the world needs more frank conversations, and shorter memories of them). We had a great conversation on reforming the comprehensive planning, a conversation that will be continued on lunch Saturday with APA President Mitchell Silver. These are two visioning leaders of two important organizations; the idea of them getting together to discuss this important topic is really invigorating.
For those of you that care about these things, here is a letter from Victor recently posted on the CNU website. In it, he repeatedly states his commitment (to which he has acted on in real and substative ways) to bringing younger people and ideas into CNU, among other important things. He has been encouraging me to do more for a long time -- one of the early ones here to do so -- and, for that reason and many others, I'm a huge fan of his.
I'm about the head into the Why We Write session where I am sharing the stage with some great writers, in particular a man who has been a great influence on me, Jim Kunstler. We are in the Grand Ballroom (gulp) so, if you are here, come and check us out at 3:45 PM. I'll be recording the session and, if it turns out, will be sharing the audio on the podcast portion of the site.