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Bright Minds, Human-Scaled City

The 20th Congress for the New Urbanism is now unfolding in West Palm Beach. With the help of three writers — Kristen Jeffers of The Black Urbanist, and Tony Garcia and Craig Chester of Transit Miami — Next American City will provide regular coverage of the Congress on our Daily blog.

The 20th annual Congress of the New Urbanism is being held in West Palm Beach this year, and for lovers of human-scaled urbanism there is no other place to be. For those of you new to the game, the congress is a meeting of the brightest American urban minds. We commiserate, share the work of the past year, and create new connections with other like-minded professionals.

If you have never been to a Congress it can be overwhelming at first. This is not your typical corporate conference. You won’t find sessions on ‘Negotiating Skills for Planners’ or ‘Airport Land-Use Districts’ (both sessions from a recent planning conference). Instead, the congress is the incubator for the latest ideas shaping our cities — a dynamic event where folks bring ideas that they have been brewing during the previous year to discuss with thinkers from around the country.

It’s fitting that CNU 20 began with the NextGen Congress within a Congress, where young New Urbanists set the stage for the rest of the week. Presentations have ranged from Misunderstood Mobility, to Tactical Urbanism. Throughout all the disparate sessions runs a strong undercurrent of self-critique — a spirit of constructive criticism that is central to the practice of good urbanism. Massachusetts urban planner Jennifer Krouse made this insightful critique about the Congress itself: “Meeting in a conference center is convenient, but it has a way of segregating us from the city we’re in, and when we leave, there’s no sign that we’ve ever been there. Which is pretty funny when you consider that the CNU is a meeting composed almost entirely of people whose mission is placecraft.”

This is the sort of discussion that takes place at CNU – brutally honest – and not just about our broken pattern of development, but how we as a professional organization hope to move forward.

Tony Garcia publishes the blog Transit Miami and is Principal of The Street Plans Collaborative.