The word “congress” means to assemble, to meet, to discuss, to the conference. The Congress of New Urbanization was born out of the creative minds of young developers in coffee shops over 20 years ago. Plans scribbled on napkins then were the early blueprints for small urbanized cities developments and revitalization of older towns and cities across America and abroad.
The goals of this movement which began in the 1970s were about creating walking cities where people live, shop, dine, go to theaters, and books stores all within walking distance. These cities are not about keeping people out, but about providing happier more productive lives for the people within.
New Urbanization relies upon the talents, education, and research of members of the community. This creates a culture of self-reliance that promotes growth from within and reduced dependence on outside sources. In the early days when the movement began it was about the revitalization of inner cities. These were in small pockets of the cities and people owned co-ops, grew vegetables on the rooftops of apartment buildings, and had block parties.
What is happening today is larger than that. Whereas the goal of revitalization continues forward, there is also the goal of renewal. New homes built in close proximity to old town squares, restaurants, cafes and small storefronts line the streets. The home developments are typically small with 20 homes or fewer, and there are several within each small city. Throughout the city, there are parks and other recreational facilities, libraries, civic centers, and of course governmental offices.
Members of Congress for New Urbanization come from small cities across the U.S. and communicate with one another through message boards, Facebook, and national conferences once per year. It is at these conferences that problems, progress, and new ideas are discussed. The people who live and work in these communities feel good about what they do, and the dedication to what they do.
They believe in clean energy sources and prefer for their homes to use clean energy whenever possible. Driving is a need to basis. The town squares are walkable, and while there is street parking everything is designed to respect pedestrians and bike riders. In fact, one of the biggest topics of conversation at CNU 20 was new problems that have arisen due to the numbers of pedestrians and bike riders. The problems are not caused by them, but to them. Safety of the community is of the utmost importance. Often automobiles, pedestrians, and bike riders do not mix very well. The dangers of being hit are great. Speed limit postings, right of way ordinances (to bike riders and pedestrians) do help, but ultimately it is up to the individuals who are not behind the wheel to watch out for the person who is.
The purpose of New Urbanization is not to cut its communities and members off from the rest of society, but rather to present a model for how sustainable communities can spring from revitalized urban cities, or from new developments. Those on the “outside” tend to view urbanized communities as almost cultish. These communities cannot exist in a vacuum, that is the reason that the local and national conferences are so important.
National conferences such as the CNU 20 held in 2012, in West Palm Beach, present an opportunity for conversation, a sharing of ideas, concerns, and to provide support. What is so weird about people who are serious about caring for their communities? The difference between urbanites and suburbanites is that urbanites will buy a house that is in a community where they wish to live, work, and raise their families. Suburbanites will move to a community that has a house they want and drive to the city to work, which critically cuts into living and raising a family.
There are those proponents of New Urbanization who assert that living in walkable cities improves the quality of life and familial relationships. That it promotes relationships between neighbors, and in cross communities because everyone works together. In the revitalized cities, there is a mix of people who have lived in them since their childhoods and new, young professionals who move into the areas. Both of these can learn so much and bring so much vitality to the community. Everyone has a purpose.
The Congress of New Urbanization has its eyes on the future and deeply desires a future with fewer super highways, super stores, and suburban housing communities that demand more of these. It will be interesting to see how the Congress for New Urbanization is able to continue their efforts at sustainable cities, that promote diversity and inclusion with the current socio-political climate. Will this mean more people moving into these cities, or will it drive people out?
In past history, there has always been a sharp rise or drop in the economy after a change of presidential administration. Over the past 27 years, the country has gone from being in full economic recovery to a Great Recession, and back on the mend again. Needless to say, people are concerned about the new administration and how this affects not only the economic outlook in regards to jobs and housing but also the environment and healthcare. These are all strong arguments for sustainable cities.
In times of economic instability there is a need for communities that can rely on the members within, and even take comfort in knowing there are other communities where people also live, work, and play that are going through the same experiences. People with whom they can share ideas and even fears. That is what the Congress of New Urban Development seeks to encourage.
The conferences are not inexpensive, but there are scholarships available each year. Continuing Education Credits are granted for those who need to provide these for work. Anyone can submit a proposal and if invited to speak, attends free, and there are volunteer opportunities that also either compensate or defray part of the cost of attendance.
Persons who are not members of CNU are highly encouraged to attend to learn more about New Urbanization and how to introduce the concept to their respective cities. In addition to attendance, there is a wealth of information about NU and how to become involved in the CNU.