During the opening plenary at CNU 20 (#cnu20), Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk looked back on 20 years of CNU history and ahead to the next 20. She commented on the importance of being an elite organization. That got me thinking.
CNU prides itself, in my opinion, for lack of better term, on “going rogue,” of germinating ideas about urbanism that are against the grain and unpopular. This is an important role. Because of CNU, Plater-Zyberk pointed out, terms like “complete streets,” “live-work,” “granny flat,” and the very idea that design matters and community building is important are part of our everyday. So elite ideas have their place, but perhaps more critical to the movement is the grassroots, bottom up approach. The future of the movement may depend on it.
I recently attended a seminar about how the tea party rose to national awareness. Far from comparing or contrasting new urbanism and the tea party, what the latter shows us is success came from a grassroots, door-to-door effort and a handle on rhetoric to get their point across. They obviously tapped in to something not being provided to Americans, and the movement grew.
CNU is trying to provide something many or most Americans want – better cities and towns. It strikes me that CNU is getting some of the rhetoric right, but not the grassroots effort. Maybe “tactical urbanism” is really tapping in to that grassroots demand for something better in our cities. I see it all the time in my community, but my neighbors cannot always express it or know what to do. If CNU can better grab and focus that desire through rhetoric and a grassroots effort, some very interesting things will happen.
The next few days here at CNU may provide some clues.
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