The Next Urbanism: A Movement Evolves

Mike Lydon's picture
Madison, Wisconsin


Since 2004, the Next Generation of New Urbanists (NextGen) has welcomed new ideas and new faces into the Congress for the New Urbanism. Comprised of a core group of leaders, generally between ages 25 and 40, the NextGen focuses on pushing the principles of new urbanism, as defined in the Charter, forward.  

Beyond providing a barrier-free entrée point to the CNU, the loose organization's main thrust is to recognize that the impressive accomplishments of the 30-year old new urbanist movement has created a false sense that the challenges CNU initially sought to conquer have, well, been conquered. To be sure hundreds of projects, an expansive body of unified research, and dozens of related organizations continue to solidify a planning reform movement that dates to the beginning of the American municipal planning profession.

Today,the wide acceptance of peak oil, global warming, and the recent economic crisis-issues new urbanism tackle head on-provides an added boost, if not a sense of urgency.

But while progressive planning efforts continue to revive a normative trajectory of city building- one found before the meteoric rise of petroleum-based planning-it's increasingly obvious that translating great principles, design manuals, built projects, and innovative zoning codes into truly great places is still not done easily.

With this in mind, 17 core NextGen leaders convened in New Orleans' Marigny/Bywater neighborhood this past November to discuss the future of urbanism and the role CNU should play in continuing the project of town and city making. 

As attendees began to trickle into the Big Easy, the diversity of the movement quickly became apparent:the CNU's founding members are primarily architects from the babyboom generation, while the NextGen's leadership-and the Congress as a whole-is now comprised of zoning attorneys, planners, business strategists, marketing experts, engineers, landscape architects, urban designers, developers, students, and yes, plenty of architects. This professional diversity differentiates the movement from other planning or building organizations, and is a testament to CNU's unique, interdisciplinary approach.

The weekend of intense, intelligent discussion began with each attendee presentinga 20-slide, 6:40 Pecha Kucha presentation. While each presenter laced the wall of the Bywater house in which we crammed with new ideas, criticism, and goals, not one topic was repeated. Yet, the common thread of improving the efficacy of the CNU, and the general livability of our cities, was found throughout.

After the presentations, everyone broke into smaller working groups to push a number of initiatives forward. Central among these is translating each Charter principle into the first person, i.e, putting the onus back on individual to take personal responsibility in creating sustainable buildings, streets, neighborhoods, districts, corridors, towns, cities, and regions. Other initiatives include improving the annual Congress experience, improving communication to those outside of the CNU movement, expanding our research initiatives, and continuing the transitioning of the the organization's foudners, who are now reaching their 60's.

All set to the backdrop of New Orleans' joi de vivre, it was a pretty good weekend.

Fast-forward to today, the NextGen has been busy pushing each of the identified initiatives forward. Central to the effort is a new strategic plan guiding the ongoing development of the NextGen and the continued evolution of the new urbanism. To this end, two products supportingthis effort are now available.

The first is the beta version of an open source project, called Tactical Urbanism: Short TermAction || Long Term Change. Authored by yours truly, with Dan Bartman, Ronald Woudstra, and Aurash Khawarzad, the report covers a variety of initiatives utilizing a less formal, but dynamic approach to improving our neighborhoods and cities. 

And in further support of CNU 19, which is happening in Madison, Wisconsin this year, NextGen has organized AuthentiCity, a design competition targeting an infill site. Please have a look at the competition page, and spread it around to those who may be interested in submitting an entry. 

While the new urbanism is not so new anymore, it is still full of talented, passionate, and driven people committed to the movement's principles. For those who attended the Bywater/Marigny retreat, the new urbanism is now morphing into the Next Urbanism, which will continue to build from the extraordinary effort led by those who came before us.  

If interested, please join the discussion in Madison. We have a lot of work to do.  

Mike Lydon is Principal of the Street Plans Collaborative and co-author of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Actions for Long-term Change (Island Press, 2015).



Fix Links

Note to the author:

The links for NextGen and Tactical Urbanism do not work. NextGen appears to be referencing the wrong website, whereas Tactical Urbanism has an extra "http://www." in the URL.

Correct Link URLs

Mike Lydon's picture


Apologies, Planetizen's blog editor is very wonky/difficult to use. I had to use HTML to post the links, which I am clearly not fully proficient. Thanks for posting the correct links.
Best, Mike

Looking for PRAGMATIC solutions

Mike; Your enthusiasm is contagious and your optimism inspiring.
“Today,the wide acceptance of peak oil, global warming, and the recent economic crisis —issues new urbanism tackles head on - provides an added boost, if not a sense of urgency.”
While idealism about the goals is necessary in order to achieve them, pragmatism about the means is imperative for the same reason.
In a recent e-cast we found the :Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from U.S. Transportation,Prepared for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

In it, a section titled “Moving Towards Compact Development” reads:
“Reversing the United States’ longstanding trends towards lower density development by promoting
compact, mixed-use development would reduce the growth of travel and yield other benefits. Compact development shortens trip lengths and promotes walking, bicycling, and public transit.
A recent National Research Council study and two other recent studies conclude that GHG emissions could be reduced by 10 percent or more by 2050 if 75 to 90 percent of all new development were “compact.” Because of competing priorities at the local level, however, the scenarios in this study achieve reductions in travel and GHG emissions of 0.5 to 2.0 percent by 2035 and 1.5 percent to 5.0 percent by 2050 .

These are meagre figures by which to tackle global warming and the economic crisis through planning. By contrast, the same report projects that changes to the fleet can reduce oil consumption in the range of 40 to 70%. These figures are orders of magnitude higher than the planning alternative offers.
If we want to save the Planet and fast, we need to look in the right places for PRAGMATIC solutions.
Any suggestions?

Re: Looking for pragmatic solutions

@Fanis Grammenos, you'll be heavily rewarded for asking that question in June if you attend the annual meeting of the CNU. That is, if you consider a lot of good answers a reward. The annual meeting/conference includes an "open source" event, during which attendees can pose a question to the entire assembly. Once all of the questions have been posed, attendees split into groups to try to answer them. So by attending and contributing your question, you have the chance to consult 500+ practitioners at once, from the full range of professions. You'll get a lot more material than any individual can give, though I daresay Mike Lydon can provide the answers of at least ten.

Mike Lydon's picture

Thanks, Fanis. Below is a

Thanks, Fanis.

Below is a response from a close friend of mine who is very busy studying the details of these issues closely--more closely than myself.

"Here's a Streetsblog post where Deron Lovaas from NRDC breaks down the interplay between vehicle and fuel efficiency and land use considerations. I would suggest looking into the work of The Center for Neighborhood Technology on these issues as well.

However, while Pew researchers are aggressive in their assumptions about vehicle and fuel substitutions, their assumptions on housing and work preferences really fall short. For example, in the executive summary, they say that if there was demand for compact land use, then it would already have happened. It dismisses smart growth and compact land use development because of "insurmountable barriers" in policy. It also dismissed transit adoption as a viable solution in the future. The researchers are obviously not experts in integrated land-use and transportation policy, nor are they students of history.

At the same time, it makes aggressive assumptions about cleaner fuels and efficient cars adoption although the market and technology aren't there yet. If you applied those same policy barrier assumptions to the automobile manufacturing sector and consumer behavior, their conclusions about GHG emission reduction projections would probably not be nearly as aggressive.

If you really want to get nitpicky, the biggest reductions in their analysis come in airline fuels—40-45%, masking effort on VMT reductions and smart growth strategies. And we don't know how they based their analysis on 2010 emissions when their report came out in January 2011: 2010 levels weren't reported yet. Maybe they have a secret source? I think we looked into it but found nothing conclusive.

Finally, there was a March EPA study that showed that compact land use has greater energy efficiency compared to suburban land use. Energy efficiency can be a proxy for carbon emissions (though be careful, it's not an exact one, because energy is obviously produced from different sources that are comprised of varying carbon intensities and resulting in different GHG emissions.)"

And yes, as Jen says...come to CNU to debate this, and other issues.


The disputed facts

Research is either good or bad depending on who is looking at it. For example, a friend professor, who teaches Smart Growth planning, found the EPA study not worth quoting.

So, the facts (or prophesies) continue to be disputed, while we are looking for PRAGMATIC solutions. And we need as many of them as possible.
Pitting one opportunity against another does not help us reach our goals. Believing one option is “the” solution and presenting as the ultimate, clouds our ability to be realistic and pursue multiple options.

The big disparity I see in the options is the time-frame. Changing the entire existing fleet is possible within fifty years (perhaps unlikely). Changing the entire existing urban fabric of big and small centres to conform to TOD principles (along with the provision of good, competitive transit) is possible within ............... ( I wish an expert urbanist could fill in the blanks) (also perhaps unlikely).

So, if the Pew report is right, there is hope at least in one area of activity and potentially big; let's go for it, we couldn't do harm pursuing it.

Issues with New Urbanism

The ground up communities like Seaside FL, and the revitalization of true urban areas have very different issues and needs.

The communites that have been created from raw land, intended specifically to be mixed use, living communites where cars were not needed, but that mixed use creates an issue for those that can afford to buy there.

Visitors, renters, people who patronize the businesses within.

Many of these communities like seaside are not gated and have a county hwy running thru them, with areas for shopping and eateries open to the public.

To keep our buildings rented we of course want businesses to have customers, and we want renters to be happy and enjoy our "town"
But many buy here, and then resent the "traffic" of non-owners. They pressure the mgmt company to harass and discourage patronage to those very same businesses and rental units that paid our mortgages.

In our town, in spite of significant resistance during owner's meetings, they put up large signs restricting our beaches to owners use only, how do you think my vacationing renter's felt about that?
They bought RED shirts with embroidered "badges" on them for our "security" Our hospitality hosts are now rent a cops.
Our interfiath chapel drew some amazing crowds,,, they shut it down for over a year, to figure out how to keep non-residents out. So in creating our utopia they actually kicked out God!?!?

Many residents buy homes near businesses and then begin to try to close the business down, saying the customers are over-using their public spaces...

I have seen many many people asked to leave simply for photographing their families, for having a picnic lunch in a public space, (even though they purchased their lunch at one of the local businesses!

What can be done to further the new urbanist cause in these areas, and to allow the owners and businesses to thrive and co-exist. I personally moved out and just rent out the properties I have, since it was too much like a small town with in fighting and time wasted crafting and drafting and enforcing rules daily.

For true urban villages, the key is to create liveable mixed use communities in the spaces that already exist. Local markets, co-ops, childcare, eldercare, housing above, high speed net, local identity, (ft Payne AL was the sock capitol of the USA at one time, Greenville/Spartanburg was the textile center, PA furniture etc)

Jeffrey Blake Adams

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