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Growth and Growing Pains Celebrated at CNU IX

By Karen O'Keefe

Eleven hundred new urbanists converged on New York City June 7 - 10 for CNU IX, the annual coming-together of the Congress for the New Urbanism. Themed "From Neighborhood to Region," seminars, presentations and discussions put the spotlight on the relationship of regional planning to neighborhood design, as well as many other issues. Speakers included Chairman of the National Governors' Association and "smart growth" champion Governor Parris Glendening of Maryland; and H. Brent Coles, mayor of Boise, Idaho, and president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Participants found a number of positives in this year's Congress, among them the growth in the scope, breadth and sheer numbers of new urbanist projects completed and underway, ranging from new town "greenfield" to development to "infill" projects in urban areas that will redensify cities.

Many who attended were pleased by the increasing interest in new urbanism, which was evident from the number of participants, and the many places and broad range of disciplines and interests they represented.

James Howard Kunstler, well-known and respected author and new urbanist, was inspired by the turnout, especially by young developers.

"It's evident that many new enlistees to the new urbanist movement are young developers, a very heartening thing because these people are engaged in the practical reality of remaking our everyday world. It's inspiring to find such a large group of intelligent, heroic young people who clearly perceive a grave national problem and have dedicated their energies to doing something positive about it."

Architect Neil Payton, a principal at Maryland-based Torti Gallas and Partners/CHK, also has seen the annual Congress gatherings grow. The annual Congress is changing, he notes, as a larger, more diverse group attends with each succeeding year. While the growth of the annual Congress provides less opportunity than in the past to "share stories, experiences and technical information" in a small peer-group environment," says Payton, "a bigger tent spreads the word," which is good.

Payton adds that the growth of the Congress has aided in the evolution of the new urbanist movement. Meetings can be geared to focus on educating a larger audience and to resolve some of the tensions between the new urbanists and other groups representing major constituencies. For example: "There was quite a bit of discussion with the environmental community," Payton said, "where I would argue we have an uneasy alliance."

For Tom Dolan, whose California-based firm Thomas Dolan Architecture specializes in the live/work field, CNU IX was his fourth Congress and his first in three years.

"I thought it was a great conference," he said. I thought it important that it was held this year in New York. The very intense, urban character of New York City makes it one of the most successful urban places in America.

"Going to the CNU Congress is like going back to the well -- it reminds me of what we do -- and it validates what we do.

"I am looking forward to CNU X in Miami [June 13 - 16 at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel]."

"I loved the conference," said Nathan Norris, general manager of Gorham's Bluff, a "new town" in progress in northeastern Alabama designed as an arts enclave and recreation home community.

Like his colleagues, Norris noted how rapidly the level of new urbanist activity, all across the spectrum -- from new towns to urban infill -- has increased in just a few years. "It used to be easy to keep up with it all. Today, there are more and more things all the time."

Norris said he appreciated the opportunity to hear about the experience of other new urbanists who are finding success in promoting the movement and its principles.

In short, said Norris, the Congress "brings a bunch of cool people, who are doing something very important, together."

See you in Miami.