18th New Urbanist Congress: Best Ever?

What’s constitutes “best ever” depends on the takeaways, right? And when it comes to conferences, we could be talking takeaways that aren’t products of the event itself. Like maybe you got a job or connected with a soul mate. Let’s call that the upside of unintended consequences.

Atlanta, host city for the 18th Congress of the Congress for the New Urbanism, May 19-22, is going for something more intentional, a timely convergence: Right place. Right moment. Right people.

We’ve made a big deal about this convergence idea before. For instance: here and here. Now we have an historic gathering designed to get down to the details.

What makes Atlanta the right place is connected to what’s gone so terribly wrong over the latter part of the 20th century. Despite a fairly serious effort at mass transit, especially for a major city in the Southeast, Atlanta has been mostly about the care and feeding of cars. Which has made the metro region a textbook example of sprawl on a grand scale. Which, in turn, has forced sprawl-coping strategies on the political and economic leadership in the region.

That makes Atlanta the epicenter for “retrofitting suburbia,” which happens to be part of the title of the widely admired book co-authored by Georgia Tech architecture professor Ellen Dunham-Jones, who also happens to be co-chair of the Atlanta Host Committee for CNU 18, along with Atlanta native Laura Heery. With Ellen and Laura wrangling major players in both CNU and in Atlanta, there have already been “urban labs” to convene the conversation about connectivity. We covered the January session here. And we interviewed participants in the March workshop for the short videos below.

To add a new layer and a heightened sense of urgency, in 2009, a federal judge addressing the water wars between Georgia and adjacent states ruled that Georgia and Atlanta have three years to figure out some combination of conservation and new water sources or shut down most new development in a region that defines itself through growth. To see how this crisis has penetrated the economic development discussion in the Atlanta area, check out the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce’s postings.

The cure for what ails us?

Even before water issues joined the mix for CNU 18 discussion, the connection between land use planning and public health was made more explicit and timely by CNU’s association with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. See our earlier posting on the partnership. And read Jonathan Lerner’s just published piece on the duh factor when it comes to connecting community health with community planning.

The Big Idea, of course, is not just that Atlanta finds itself at the center of all these interconnected challenges all by itself. It’s that Atlanta has these challenges in common with so many other places, making it an ideal place to convene a discussion that can be informed by principles and strategies of New Urbanism. Atlanta and CNU are bundling all of this stuff together and bringing top thinkers in dozens of previously disconnected fields to the table. Given all that, this Congress could very well be the best ever. Maybe it has to be.

Check out the complete program here. And sign up. We’ll see you there.

–Ben Brown


Filed under Development, Planning and Design, Public Policy

2 responses to “18th New Urbanist Congress: Best Ever?

  1. michael church

    thanks for refreshing my interest. I’m now retired but still passionate about urbanism.

  2. I heartily second the issues in Ben’s article… thanks for all the posts you guys have been doing recently! Here are a few recent posts on the Original Green blog that discuss this year’s CNU, or its theme of healthy places:

    A Gift to the Street: http://bit.ly/bs0nhX
    Earth Day – A Symptom of Our Disease? http://bit.ly/c2NqBk
    Curing Cancer of the City: http://bit.ly/autSZm

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