CNU 20 Tracks

Looking Forward, Looking Back

CNU 20 will convene at a pivotal time for the nation, world, and CNU itself. The challenges of peak oil, climate change, urban sprawl, and political gridlock have just been the prelude to the global economic crisis that now confronts us. With the Great Recession shaking the foundations of our political and economic systems, we must seek wisdom from prior generations, reflect on the experiences of more than two decades of New Urbanism in practice, and find the best ideas for making our cities and towns stronger. This year’s Congress will incorporate a critical evaluation of New Urbanism's first two decades and define an agenda to confront the challenges we face. As FDR remarked in the depths of the Great Depression, it is a time that demands "bold, persistent experimentation."

The Incremental, Entrepreneurial City

In contrast to the boom years when larger-scale projects were funded with easy capital within fiscally stable municipalities, achieving success in the New World may require working at a smaller scale, in smaller increments, and with an entrepreneurial approach by both the public and private sectors.

What are the new conventions of finance, governance, and development, and how have they changed the strategies and techniques for implementing urbanism in a slow-growth, small-scale world? Can we learn from other eras and places where incrementalism and scarce capital were the norm? How can cities tap the power of urban entrepreneurs to rebuild urban economies?

In the midst of the economic malaise of the 1970s, economist E.F. Schumacher published Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, as the economic antidote to the collapse of "bigger is better." What wisdom will modern urbanists now contribute in what seems to be even more challenging times?

Sustainability and Livability

The sustainability agenda is poised for a reality check based on the challenges of the New World. The "new green" requires both an economic and environmental rationale to be articulated and advanced for the livable city agenda. The political will and resources needed for implementing sustainability initiatives—and the renewed call for deregulation in the name of economic growth—require a stronger "bottom-line" case to be made for green infrastructure and programs that protect the environment while supporting and/or advancing economic recovery. Expanding on the typical green focus, this track will also include livability, which addresses the human/social dimensions of what sustains a city and makes it livable (e.g., social, cultural, and arts programs). HUD's Livable Communities program may represent one of the last and best opportunities to push these agendas forward and establish a new framework with federal support, while implementation will require increasingly local and regional approaches.

Architecture and Placemaking

New Urbanist design has focused attention on placemaking and architecture that helps distinguish the public and private realms. The New World presents designers with problems that are radically different from those involving sprawling suburban growth and mega-architectural projects of recent decades. The challenges ahead are immense: housing the burgeoning global population, adapting to a post-fossil-fuel dependent paradigm, addressing issues of climate change, and providing a framework for civilized life. Design as a solution to these vexing issues is the hallmark of new urbanist theory and practice.

CNU 20 will also focus on "The Art of the New Urbanism," featuring lectures and an exhibition on design techniques, the artistic qualities of new urbanist work, and the visual communication embodied in drawings that brings transparency and participation into the public process of shaping communities.

Mobility and Walkable City

The sustainability, economic viability, and livability of the city depend on a vigorous infrastructure designed to support walking, cycling, transit use, and motor vehicle mobility. Strategies to balance all modes are essential, from the most local, tactical urban approach to the re-prioritizing of the highway-only focus held by many agencies. We can no longer afford mono-modal thinking.

CNU 20 transportation sessions will include a triple focus: 1] past actions that created our auto-centricity, 2] current practice methods and assumptions, 3] future CNU objectives that will improve urban mobility. These past, present, and projected ideas should include transit systems that efficiently serve populations and work places, as well as human-scale thoroughfare design that supports pedestrian-based lifestyles. These concepts provide the backbone for low cost, high-value urban living, and strong urban economies.


This year's International track will have a special focus on Central America, South America, and the Caribbean—places that continue to experience rapid growth and urbanization in spite of the severity of the economic downturn and credit crisis derailing most development in the U.S. This track will emphasize the production and implementation of projects, educational programs, and metropolitan initiatives in the developing economies of Latin America. Hosting CNU 20 in West Palm Beach brings a unique opportunity for the presentation of some of the best speakers and projects from this part of the world. Additionally, the International track will continue sharing information regarding challenges and opportunities in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Open Innovation

For 20 years, the New Urbanism has been at the cutting edge of sustainable planning, urban design and architecture, and we plan to stay there. The Open Innovation track will showcase cutting edge work of members and attendees covering a variety of topics from brand new theories of urbanism still in formation to completed projects for critique. In the spirit of increased collaboration and support of member-led content, interested presenters are invited to apply to have their idea included in the CNU agenda; the goal of the curators will be to include as many ideas as time allows. Click here for more information on the Open Innovation track and for submission forms.