Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Build a Better City From Your Couch

Annual Congress for the New Urbanism pivots to virtual format.

By - Feb 22nd, 2021 11:06 am
Congress for the New Urbanism 29. Image from CNU.

Congress for the New Urbanism 29. Image from CNU.

You won’t have to get on a plane or train to get to the Congress for New Urbanism in 2021.

The annual event, focused on improving cities, draws more than 1,500 people, including planners, architects, developers, elected officials and city lovers.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is shifting to a virtual format for the second straight year. The difference in 2021 is that it’s being planned that way from the outset, which organizers hope will boost the event quality and draw a more diverse audience.

The multi-day conference, billed as a congress, features workshops and lectures for attendees to exchange ideas on building better cities. But CNU, owing to its place-based focus, also puts a heavy emphasis on going beyond the convention center with curated tours and off-site events.

The theme for this year’s event, which runs from May 19th through the 21st, is “design for change.” Two days of workshops and introductory sessions, tailored towards new attendees, are also planned. Early bird registration, available through March 7th, starts at $150. Scholarships are available.

The organization believes a virtual-first focus will result in an experience similar to in-person conferences, less the hassle of traveling. There even will be an attempt to recreate spontaneous hallway encounters. The website touts “social gatherings tailored to meet the needs of attendees and sponsors alike, including more curated group discussions, passionate debates, and casual interactions to blow off steam after a long day.” More formal one-on-one mentorship and network will be available.

The organization is better known in Milwaukee than most cities because former Mayor John Norquist resigned in 2004 to become its leader. Norquist retired in 2014 and current CEO Lynn Richards gave a presentation to the Rotary Club of Milwaukee in September 2019. Her five-step strategy served as a guide to making “magic happen” in what she said was a city with so much to build on.

The annual conference has been held in Wisconsin in the past, it came to Milwaukee in 1999 and Madison in 2011. A local chapter, CNU Wisconsin, hosts infrequent events.

The 29th congress was to be held in Oklahoma City, but the virtual format will postpone the Sooner State’s time in the sun until 2022. The 2020 event was scheduled to be in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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