Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why (as a municipal planner) if you only attend one planning event in 2011, it should be CNU.

The Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual gathering is June 1-4 in Madison, Wisconsin. As a municipal planner you likely have a few conferences to choose from including the obvious choice, the American Planning Association Conference, both national and local. And while you should continue to be a regular attendee at APA, every once and a while, perhaps this year, consider attending CNU. A few reasons:
  1. New Ideas: CNU is the brewery for big ideas that change everything. For example, you are familiar with the “growing local” movement and strategies for maintaining rural character, but agricultural urbanism is a design-based integration of community-supported agriculture into the weave of neighborhoods and regions. In several new towns across the country like Serenbe GA, and Hampstead AL, as well as in major cities like Atlanta, Montgomery and Madison, the movement is taking root. Design approaches that address the challenges of rising fuel costs, health problems due to inactivity, the social balkanization of America, and climate change, are coming from the CNU. What’s more, it’s a congress, not a conference: delegates vigorously debate the ideas, and challenge each other to advance the state of the art. You’ll have a chance to engage directly with other thinkers, not just sit through panels.
  2. Familiar Goals But With Better Renderings: All the planning favorites are at CNU: Livability, Sustainability, Walkability, Bikeability, Context-Sensitivity, Affordable Housing, Making Infill Work, Reshaping the Suburbs, and so forth. But the New Urbanists make the effort not just to talk about them but to integrate them and show how they work, even packing all of the ideas into ONE plan or watercolor rendering. You’ll leave CNU inspired to draw (if not a rendering then a 2D plan) every time.
  3. New People: It’s a comfort to go the local chapter meeting at a national APA and know everyone but there is something to be said for meeting new people. Ask someone at your CNU chapter’s meetup during the Congress to introduce you. Your favorite thought leaders are presenting at both APA and CNU, but are far more likely to stick around for all the sessions and social events of CNU. The consultant or new addition to your department that you'll be looking for next year or the year after next is probably going to be there. Most importantly, the CNU congresses aren’t just attended by planners, but also by architects, engineers, developers, municipal officials, environmentalists and other dedicated pros.
  4. That Much Closer to CNU Accreditation: Every accreditation helps. Of the recommended reading list you probably have already read the Charter of the New Urbanism and Suburban Nation, but the time you’ll spend with the New Urbanism: Best Practices Guide and its catalogue of photographs (not just renderings) of built projects, is extremely helpful.
  5. See Madison: Madison is not one of the usual host cities in the conference circuit. But because it is not Las Vegas, New Orleans or Boston it is probably closer to the size of the municipality you work for. Madison’s victories are easily visible and the lessons you’ll take home are more directly applicable.
If CNU works for you, go even further and become a member. We’ve taken the opportunity to attend conferences on architecture, historic preservation, public works and even code enforcement. The same yearly conference of any kind can get redundant but that first one in another sphere is all new. And as a gathering of generalists, not just people who do exactly what you do yourself, CNU19 will open up a new professional worldview.


  1. Delighted to see you guys blogging!!! For the first few months, you'll only have a few readers, but one of the virtues of the new era is patience, so please stick with it!

  2. Just got turned on to your blog from a link through Kaid Benfield's NRDC blog. I like the content so far. I'm looking forward to being introduced to some new ideas and new people in Madison.

    Mike Hadden
    New Urban Roswell