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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.