Review of the 18th Annual Congress for the New Urbanism

By - Jun 3rd, 2010 07:28 am
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The Congress for the New Urbanism held its 18th annual meeting this year in Atlanta under the title “RX for Healthy Places” (RX referring to the medical terminology for a prescription).  The title highlights the impact our built environment has on how we conduct our daily lives and how these patterns have a great effect on human health.

By far the most important speech came from Shaun Donovan, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).   Mr. Donovan announced that “For the first time in the history of federal grant competitions, I want to announce today that HUD will be using location-efficiency to score our grant applications”.  Donovan told the more than 1,000 attendees of the annual gathering of the leading national group promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions “Using the LEED-ND green neighborhood rating system CNU developed in partnership with the National Resources Defense Council and Green Building Council, it’s time that federal dollars stopped encouraging sprawl and started lowering the barriers to the kind of sustainable development our country needs and our communities want.”

In conjunction with this announcement, urban transportation and in particular bicycles were important topics at the CNU this year.  David Byrne, former singer for the music group the “Talking Heads” spoke about his experiences as a bicycle tourist in many cities around the world.  His words were followed by a session titled “Developing a Manifesto to Spread the Biking Revolution to More Big American Cities”.  The group concluded that as fuel prices continue to rise cities will need to accommodate not only bicycles, but smaller motorized vehicles like scooters and Segways as well.

Interconnected transportation networks were the subject of many sessions.  The definition of networks extends from everything as simple as adequate sidewalks to complex multi-modal transportation stations.  These interconnected systems promote walking, either to a final destination or a transit stop, as a viable mode of getting around while greatly improving people’s health.  Several sessions focused on these topics including: Health and Transportation, Retrofitting Suburbia, Great American Grid, Transportation Networks / Initiative Workshop, Project for Transportation Reform Meeting and Thinking about Intercity Passenger Rail, High Speed Rail and Urbanism.

Another major theme of the 18th Annual Congress was Agricultural Urbanism, a very relevant topic to local pioneers like Growing Power, Inc.  Reducing the distance food needs to travel to consumers will reduce the environmental impacts and costs of food.  So, the New Urbanist’s have been thinking of how to incorporate urban farming physically and socially into urban areas.  Their system proposes appropriate levels of agriculture for different urban densities.  Ranging from small window planters in the most densely populated areas to agrarian villages where cooperative farming can take place.

Next year’s congress in Madison is going to be titled “Growing Local” and will feature local Wisconsin farmers and scholars. I think New Urbanists are going to be very surprised by the parallel between the small farming communities that developed naturally in Wisconsin and the New Urbanism’s theoretical agrarian villages. As we showcase Wisconsin’s attributes to people from all over the world and they learn from our experiences, we should be asking how we can learn from others urban experiences. Remembering that living smaller, closer and more efficiently are the keys to a sustainable future.

Guest post by: Matthew Trussoni

Matthew Trussoni, PhD, PE, RA is currently an Assistant Professor in and an alumnus of the Milwaukee School of Engineering’s Architectural Engineering Department. After graduating MSOE he attended the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. where he completed a dual master’s degrees program in the School of Architecture in 2005 earning the degrees of Master of Architecture and Master of Urban Design. In 2009 he earned his Ph.D. in civil (structural) engineering in the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering Department. His professional experience has encompassed both architecture and engineering as he is a Registered Architect and Professional Engineer in the State of Florida.

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