Congress for New Urbanization FAQ

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.

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About CNU 20: Where Do We Go from There?

The Congress for the New Urbanism held its 20th Congress in 2012 in West Palm Beach, Florida. This was an important milestone for CNU and their members from all over the United States. The head offices of the Congress are (ironically) located in Washington, DC and in Chicago, IL. The organization formed 25 years ago as a league of concerned city dwellers who did not wish to see their small towns and cities morph into stops along a six-lane interstate highway. The realization that these mega highway systems are intended to reduce congestion along highways, is a juxtaposition with the fact none seem to work. Small cities and their inhabitants suffer as a result.

The Congress for the New Urbanism began with a vision to rebuild and renew small towns and cities that had suffered due to the economy, and also due to changes in technology which as time marched forward meant more people were entering IT careers and leaving the small cities for larger cities. Young families were moving to the suburbs for better schools, and this left primarily older retired professionals. With no monies coming in from taxes and other programs, these small towns and cities began to decline, which meant, even more, individuals and families leaving for cities, towns, and suburbs that were growing.

With larger cities over-crowding and more people moving to the suburbs, small cities and towns are in danger of dying out and being bought up by conglomerate developers. Many of these cities and towns have a wealth of history and lore behind them that long-time inhabitants do not wish to see disappear.

The 20th Congress for the New Urbanism was a well-orchestrated event that offered informational sessions on what the future held in difficult economic times. At that time, the housing market had not fully recovered, families and young professionals were fleeing the cities and demographics began to shift drastically. This often meant older White retirees who had lived in these areas for years were now sharing their neighborhoods with more diverse cultures and ethnicities.

The CNU 20 was an event where people shared their ideas and visions for the future which was predicted to mean an expansion of new residences within the urban communities belonging to the Congress to 50 Million by the year 2030. What West Palm Beach offered was an opportunity to those cities and individuals to see what a successful urban development looked like. A development created by CNU pioneer, Danial Cary.

The way Congress for the New Urbanism works is through memberships and donations. Architects, city and urban development planners, environmental professionals, botanists, and agricultural specialists come together and work within the communities in which they live. Everyone has a job. There are regular meetings within the communities and everyone has an opportunity to submit proposals for development ideas, special programs, and speakers.

There are interests in the arts, education, and community. The cities are called walking cities, where people live, shop, go to school, and work in the same area. This means that outside developers are unwelcome as this would mean further encroachment into the city and the loss of natural lands and historic landmarks.

The 20th Congress for the New Urbanism was a five-day conference lasting Wednesday through Sunday. Individuals and groups attending the congress registered online for the conference and then selected exhibits, special events, and sessions throughout the day. Truly the CNU conferences are like a boot camp for those new to the Congress, and an intense refresher course for returning members. Due to changes in economics, the environment, and laws, both federal and local, there is always something new to share and learn.

The initiatives of CNU 20 included a plan for working together as a community regardless of political leanings. In 2012, there were tea party meetings and neighbors were indeed pitted against neighbor as Barack Obama was set to win his second term in office. Many were concerned about a change and its effect, and others hoped for a change. The leading goal for the Congress of the New Urbanism is to not allow any outside influences to affect the lives and the sustainability of the urban neighborhoods. The desire to be self-sufficient is a noble one, but means there is a constant battle against the agendas of government, local, state, and federal who often pass laws and ordinances that are contrary to the values of these cities who only wish to revitalize that which has been worn down, and to maintain and grow that which has been revitalized.

When people work together and lobby for their water, their air, and their food to be pure when they plant their own community gardens and shop locally, use local plumbers, doctors, and lawyers money and tax-related funding stays in the community helping to further growth and improvement.

The 20th Congress for the New Urbanism began two years before its advent inviting research proposals from prospective speakers. Research into how to make these walkable cities better, how to attract more young professionals and families, how to responsibly use and preserve resources, and mostly how to work, live, and learn from one another.

It is somewhat poignant that the 20th Congress was held in West Palm Beach, as this was where it all began. Two years after the 20th Congress, Danial Cary the New Urbanism Pioneer lost his battle with Leukemia. Danial Cary had a vision of how people would live and work in the 21st century. His occupation was as a city planner, he was viewed by those he first approached as a part of the bureaucracy.

Urban renewal was not a new thing and certainly, communities communing is not. The entire culture of urban revitalization is about:

  • using resources responsibly
  • caring for the environment
  • shopping locally
  • community gardens
  • collaborative efforts
  • giving back

Each of these goes back to the 1970s when this was called commune living and only “long-haired hippies” lived like that. As it so happens, many of those who began and grew this movement were in their 20s during the 70s. West Palm Beach, Delray Beach, and the other South Florida communities that Danial Cary worked with and into revitalizing when he began his bold mission were the homes of old hippies. Or maybe some who just wish they had been.

The 20th Congress for New Urbanism: Getting with the Program

There are those who simply do not understand what urbanism is, especially new urbanism. To hear the current individual in the Oval Office, speak urban, black, and poor all mean the same thing. While most people who are familiar with the urbanist movement recognize that others view it as a movement of liberal do-gooders who want to create their own little brand of utopia.

However, The Congress for New Urbanism is not an isolated group living on some commune wearing homespun clothing and refusing medical care. They are people from all walks of life who have a deep concern for their communities, who prefer to shop locally as opposed to having superstores come in and take up space as well as the lively-hoods of local shop owners. They prefer the local coffee shop to Starbucks, and more importantly that it is as easy as walking out the door and up the street to enjoy their favorite brew. A stop by the library on the way back, and that makes for a perfect morning.

CNU 20’s program was carried out by architects, city planners, developers, environmentalists, transportation and roadway experts and many others who came together and brought together their wealth of knowledge on revitalizing and sustaining small cities and towns rather than seeing them give way to one more sprawling suburb where superstores and fast food restaurants are considered a cultural outing.

Before the urbanist movement really began to gain in popularity many of these cities were like the children in that documentary on urban schools, Waiting for Superman. There was no money coming in to rebuild or revitalize older cities and towns. To a modern world, that is not considered growth. However, what some consider growth others consider a blight on the face of the earth and harmful to the environment as this is well known ever by a number of people who are involved.

At the 20th Congress, the discussion was not just about the existing communities, but how to get more small towns and cities involved. The discussion was about educating developing training programs. Speakers spoke on how urbanization means improved economics through collective sustainable cities. When people live where they work and go to school it saves the environment from harmful gasses and other pollutants. It saves lives from traffic accidents, and if people live within walking distance, or take city transit to work it saves them money.

The lectures focused on how urbanization is not a step back, but a step forward. This was not about pie in the sky idealism, but about innovation and using technology, science, and other advancements to create a better life from within rather than becoming a part of the suburban sprawl and by that very nature one of the thousands of cars on the road for two or more hours per day each day.

The CNU 20’s program focused on how urbanization was getting people outside of their living rooms and flat screen TVs, out of their in-home gyms and on the sidewalks, walking the dogs, riding bikes, or taking a walk to the town square. The homes in these small revitalized urban centers do not have large yards, the city is everyone’s back yard, and there everyone can come out to play. This was the vision of CNU 20.

The housing market was still suffering in 2012 when the 20th Congress convened. So few new homes were being built. That meant that architects who were also urbanists had no choice but to work on projects that did not benefit the urbanists lifestyle. It was either that or build apartments or homes for the purpose of renting them out, and that only defeats the purpose as it encourages a transient lifestyle. Transients lack investment and therefore do not contribute.

According to those in attendance, one of the most exciting parts of the program was NextGen, this one-day event focused on what the new generation of urbanists envisioned for the future, their plans, goals, and how their contributions would further the urbanist movement and build new communities.

One of the most important conversations that took place at CNU 20 was that of how the urbanist movement toward revitalization and sustainable cities differed from the concept of pop-up cities. These cities are meant to thrive and grow. However, this does not just take planning, it takes tactical strategizing, collaboration, and perseverance.

One of the themes presented at the 20th Congress was Engaging Cities. Here the discussions began with the popularity of tactical urbanism, and the three trends that lead to the need for dedicated and strategic planning for sustainable city living. The recession, shifting/evolving demographics, changes in how people communicate, get their information, and e-commerce all are factors. With all that is moving so fast, young families are wanting slow down and live in places that are walkable, where neighbors do know one another, and there is community involvement.

Concerns were also broached regarding the image of New Urbanism as being viewed as some sort of urbanized Stepford village. There is the view of the members of New Urbanism as the results of all this planning becoming so White and conservative, programmed, and not too far removed from – sub-urbanism. One of the goals of New Urbanism is to live deliberately, and not haphazardly. Recognizing and working to resolve problems should not be viewed as a means of control. It is more of a proactive stance toward maintaining control.

If these cities are allowed to run down again due to lagging interest, due to a lack of tactical planning, then large developers will come in and the sprawl of suburban will make its cry heard for the need of more highways, more superstores, more malls. There was a sense of urgency that was the underlying tone of the 20th Congress, that no matter the economic troubling times that New Urbanization is not just about saving the environment or cities, it is about improving lifestyles. Superman is not coming. Urbanization is about self-reliant communities.

CNU 20 Set to Tackle the Issue of Pedestrian and Urban Traffic Safety

It’s no secret that New Urbanists like walkable streets. Yet one of the major challenges to the creation of walkable streets has been engineering concerns about traffic safety. Features such as narrow travel lanes, street trees, and other pedestrian amenities are often regarded by traffic engineers as being a safety hazard. New Urbanists have generally dealt with this problem by treating it as part of the ongoing battle of “motorists vs. pedestrians”.

But what if we could demonstrate that the New Urbanism can save the lives of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike?

Recent research by Professor Eric Dumbaugh has shown that on the issue of traffic safety, New Urbanists can claim the high ground. The community design features encouraged by New Urbanists report substantially fewer traffic-related crashes, injuries, and deaths than do the “passive safety” solutions favored by traffic engineers. The reason, as discussed in Dr. Dumbaugh’s article “Designing for the Safety of Pedestrians, Cyclists, and Motorists in Urban Environments”, is that walkable urbanism provides urban road users with the information needed to adopt safe operating behavior, leading to a significant reduction in crash incidence

2012 Athena Medals

Beginning at CNU XIV, the Athena Medals have been issued in honor of those who have cast a lasting and enduring influence on the practice and thought of New Urbanism. Named after the goddess – defender of the city, weaver of fabric – the Athena Medals recognize the legacy of pioneers who laid the groundwork for the movement.