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.