To be completely honest, attending CNU in Austin was hard to pass up. I really like the city – the climate, the food, the music. But I am doubly happy I attended. CNU gave me a shot in the arm. I learned a lot, heard great speakers, met wonderful people, took good tours, ate well, got to know the city better than I hoped, and well, the Saturday night party was a damn good time.
One highlight of the conference was listening to Robert Caro give a speech about his book, the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Power Broker, about the legacy of Robert Moses in New York. I figured hearing Caro speak would save me the trouble of reading the entire 1,100 page tome, until I realized his talk covered only a tiny section of the book. Let’s just say it is still on my “to do” list!
We were graced by several other important figures in the planning and development world. Henry Cisneros, or as he has been called, “Cheese nachos,” eloquently presented some of the many successes of HOPE VI. Allan Jacobs cautioned against letting awards received at a young age go to your head. James Howard Kunstler, while predicting doom and gloom for cities as oil runs out and the climate warms, implored us to interpret signals coming at us and provide hope for the built environment. And John Norquist reminded us that doing good things makes you happy.
Maybe the most fiery speech was given by Geoff Anderson, formerly at the EPA and now the new President of Smart Growth America. The most important part of his message was that we are not winning yet, those of us that believe in new urbanism. He implored us to be not just technicians, which CNU has proven to be quite good at. We must communicate our mission better – get our messaging right and make connections to people’s values. And instead of finding an answer then fragmenting in to our little silos, we need to come together and make our message stronger.
A word to the organizers of CNU in Denver next year, and to any other urban conference planners – do more biking tours. I rented a bike for the entire time in Austin, have done so in Amsterdam and San Francisco, and may I say again and again that it is a great way to see and learn about a city. This is particularly so when you are given a tour by a group of knowledgeable professionals in the planning/design industry.
Attending the Congress for the New Urbanism conference in Austin reinvigorated me. I had forgotten how passionate new urbanists are. As a result, I was challenged and inspired, particularly when I arrived at home and got back to the grind only to realize how much work there is to do.
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