Reporting from CNU 17 in Denver, where the thundercracks shook the Sheraton at various points throughout the day. Somehow though I've managed to be outside only when the sun is out.
The atmosphere is dramatic here at CNU, and not just outside the conference center. Everyone is a twitter (and yes, some people are Twittering at #CNU17) about the effect of the economy on the role of New Urbanism. The consensus seems to be that there is a spark of purpose in attendees and presenters not seen in recent years, driven by the culture shift inherent in this new economy and the need for New Urbanists to shift in to high gear to help solve climate change. As Robin Rather, CEO of Collective Strength put it, "We have the answers to the world's problems, we just don't know how to talk about it."
Carol Coletta of CEOs for Cities echoed Robin's message. "New Urbanism is, no offense, still a technical term." Carol and Robin both said there is a great need to communicate the messages of New Urbanism- walkable neighborhoods, connectivity, less driving- in a way that connects to people's lives. "We need to speak to people at their aspirational level."
The motivation at all levels seemed to be about cutting through jargon and infighting to press forward with issues in a cohesive manner. Developer Donald Monti, who is doing very interesting work revitalizing 3rd and 4th tier cities around the country, called for APA, CNU, ULI, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, etc., to join forces and present a clear message to the Obama Administration to move these ideas forward. Another developer on the panel thought it was too late for such coalitions, and the money is already in play with the recent stimulus package.
Another current through today's gathering was some frustration in the Obama Administration for what's seen as a lack of movement. There is a lot of hope behind a president who has created an Office of Urban Policy and has spoken out against sprawl, but disappointment that those thoughts haven't been implemented yet in any cohesive way. Meanwhile,"shovel-ready" has become a term of dirision for these folks, which they see as representing a vast amount of money poorly spent and not well-planned.
On the whole, there's a feeling of excitement and a feeling that New Urbanism is again ascendant and has the answers the world is looking for- if only we can find ways to reach people. As Robin said so firmly, "STOP TALKING ABOUT THE TRANSECT!! People don't know what you're saying!"