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  THE TOWN PAPER
VOL. 4, NO. 2 -- SUMMER 2002
 

Miami Makes Ten

"Coordinate your forces so that there is a minimum conflict and maximum effect. One uses four ounces to deflect four thousand pounds." CHING - No. 61

This June, the 10th annual Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) will be held in Miami, Fla. This Congress serves as a milestone for an organization conceived by a handful of people with a passion for town planning and an aversion to sprawl. Today the CNU is in the forefront of a national movement. However, a little over 10 years ago, the idea of holding an annual event for a movement that had yet to be named was just beginning to germinate in the minds of a few.

The need to coordinate forces within the field of what has become the new urbanism was felt by its leaders early on. According to Andrés Duany, a pioneer of traditional town planning in the United States, it was Luxembourg-born urbanist Léon Krier who came up with the idea of forming an organization based on Congresses. This permanent Congress, he thought, should be fashioned after the once very successful Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) - an organization both architects were familiar with.

"To become more influential in the development industry, Krier said, 'We must organize our own CIAM,'" said Duany.

CIAM was founded by a group of modernist architects in Switzerland in 1928 to reform architecture and planning by promoting modernist ideals through annual conferences and publications. Though the goals of CIAM and the new urbanists are the opposite, Krier and Duany felt the CIAM method of polemics would be beneficial to an industry that had few practitioners at the time, and one whose practicioners were so widely dispersed throughout the United States and other countries.

Duany took some time to study the structure of the CIAM. In 1992, he approached other like-minded architects to discuss the idea of forming such an organization. "I talked to Stef [Polyzoides], then [Peter] Calthorpe who persuaded us to talk to Dan [Solomon]." With their partners Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Elizabeth Moule, they were a small but formidable group.

Meanwhile, Peter Katz, a writer who was spending his days researching a book he was writing about this "new" concept of planning towns, had met up with Duany and several other traditional town planners that same year. He encouraged these "neo-traditionalists" to meet for dinner at the Lotos Club in New York City in an effort to try to move things along.

In addition to Katz, five architects attended the dinner at the Lotos Club. They were: Peter Calthorpe, Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Elizabeth Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides. By the time coffee was served, it was decided by the group that there would be four Congresses held over the next four years. Each would be hosted by a different firm, and like CIAM, each would be held in a different city. The first Congress took place in Alexandria, Va., and was coordinated by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company with the help of Dhiru Thadani, an architect located in Washington, D.C. Approximately 100 people attended, including Vincent Scully, James Howard Kunstler and Ray Gindroz.

Katz said the Congress was a boost to all who attended. "Those who attended were typically regarded as oddballs in their home regions by their modernist peers," said Katz. "They spent years laboring away in separate places doing work that was considered strange at the time," he continued. "Here, at the Congress, they found kindred spirits in one another; it was a very affirming experience for many of them."

The Alexandria Congress was deemed a great success, as was the one held by Moule & Polyzoides the following year in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Congress organized by Peter Calthorpe and Daniel Solomon. It was at this point, however, that the founders decided to hire an executive director to administer the fourth Congress.

Katz, a graphic designer and recent author of the book he had been researching, "The New Urbanism - Toward an Architecture of Community," agreed to step into the role.

"I worked out of my small San Francisco apartment on the dining room table," he said. "Andy Shafer, who worked with me, used a tiny table in the bedroom as his desk."

"There was such a need at the time for information about the emerging movement," said Katz. "We became the people that folks turned to because there was no one else."

At the conclusion of the Congress in Charleston, S.C., the founders decided to retain Katz for another year and keep the momentum going. This spawned the first International Congress, which was held in Toronto. It was after Toronto that Katz worked with the Board to find a new director to take his place. "Though I was happy to help out when the need arose, I never set out in life to run a nonprofit organization," he said. So Katz was pleased to step down once the organization was solidly on its feet.

Since then, many things have changed. The non-profit organization is now called the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). Shelley Poticha, who Katz helped recruit, still serves as the executive director of this now 2,500-member organization. Several staff members work with her in the Hearst Building in downtown San Francisco. In addition to organizing the big event every year (still called the Congress), the CNU works to restructure public policy and development practices to support the Charter it has adopted (see sidebar). The organization produces a newsletter and publications, maintains a website (www.cnu.org), and has set up task force groups comprised of members to address specific needs within the organization.

This year's Congress is titled "From Suburbs to Towns" and will run from June 13 - 16. For more information, visit the website at www.cnu.org or call CNU headquarters at 415-495-2255.

Ten CNU Congresses

CNU I (Alexandria, Va., 1993): Neighborhood, District and Corridor.
CNU II (Los Angeles, Calif., 1994): Buildings, Blocks and Streets (Local scale).
CNU III (San Francisco, Calif., 1995): Regional Planning. The principles for working on each of these scales were then compiled into the Charter of the New Urbanism, the defining document of our movement.
CNU IV (Charleston, S. C., 1996): Participants ratified the Charter. It was signed by then-Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros and attracted national attention.
CNU V (Toronto, 1997): The first Congress outside of the United States drew representatives from 18 countries.
CNU VI (Denver, Colo., 1998): Environmental and Urban Infill.
CNU VII (Milwaukee, Wis., 1999): Strengthening the Physical, Economic and Social Aspects of Cities.
CNU VIII (Portland, Ore., 2000): Implementing New Urbanism.
CNU IX (New York City, N.Y. 2001): Region, Neighborhood, Design and Codes. First annual Charter Awards presented.
CNU X (Miami, Fla., 2002): From Suburbs to Towns

The CNU Charter*

The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society's built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.

We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy.

We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.

We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology and building practice.

We represent a broad-based citizenry, composed of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.

We dedicate ourselves to reclaiming our homes, blocks, streets, parks, neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities, regions and environment.

* The principles of the Charter are broken down into three categories: 1. The region: metropolis, city and town. 2. The neighborhood, the district and the corridor. 3. The block, the street and the building. To see complete text, visit the CNU website at www.cnu.org.