Dispatches from CNU 21: Duany Gets Severe

Like an austere family patriarch, Andrés Duany took the stage at CNU 21 yesterday to talk about the many different issues facing New Urbanists today.

Andrés Duany in 2009. Credit: Atlanta Regional Commission on Vimeo

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The 21st Congress for the New Urbanism is going on right now in Salt Lake City. We have three bloggers on hand to tell you about its highlights.

Like an austere family patriarch, Andrés Duany took the stage at CNU 21 yesterday to talk about the many different issues facing New Urbanists today, including the state of their own namesake organization.

Duany noted that as New Urbanism enters its third decade, the movement has come of age as those in the field now define themselves according to its principles. New Urbanism, he said, is unique in that it is both a top-down and bottom-up system that provides both the “principles through the charter and the process through charrettes.”

He also warned that over time, organizations naturally degenerate within their own systems to become lumbering dinosaurs, unable to make quick turnarounds when necessary. He urged those in the audience to adopt the “protean” organizational model, which stresses flexibility. As discussed in Michael S. Malone’s book The Future Arrived Yesterday, a protean organization is one that can change direction and identity in response to a rapidly evolving international marketplace.

In more than a bit of a condemnation, Duany railed against the American environmental movement and warned New Urbanists to be careful of getting swallowed in. The American environmental movement is the only such movement in the world that doesn’t include humans in the equation, he said. It was born out of protecting our national park system — and since humans degrade that proposition, it has led to draconian laws that actually prevent people from living in and enjoying nature. To Duany, you need human beings in the equation in order for the system to work as a whole.

In closing he challenged New Urbanists to understand what lies before them in the current century and how the nation’s three greatest crises — the real estate bubble, peak oil and climate change — will impact the ability of people to be creative and idealistic.

The bubble, he said, revealed the limits of the U.S. economy. Between pensions, aging Baby Boomers and medical costs, we’re broke. In terms of peak oil, the idea is not that energy will run out, but that energy will never again be cheap. As for climate change, he called it a slow-moving crash as we surpass one tipping point after another. It is a rolling problem that casts a pall on idealism and creativity. Many have already given up.

Instead of giving up, Duany said, New Urbanists must keep causing trouble (in their own way). He applauded the group for continuing to be “open source,” noting that “we do the cool stuff and it’s okay to let others get the credit.”

Arnold Weinfeld is the director of strategic initiatives at the Michigan Municipal League.

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Tags: urbanismsalt lake city

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