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June 12, 2009

Live from Denver

The Congress for the New Urbanism is in full throttle in Denver this week, wrestling with issues of infrastructure, going green, and financing of projects in these dark economic times. And while it almost seems quaint and old-fashioned to file a blog post from this gathering of 1,000 architects, planners, and others from the design professions, in the age of Twitter analyzed in this excellent article in Time magazine, here are some highlights:
      -- Showing results. The analysis contained in the Lincoln Institute report Smart Growth Policies provided some food for thought in the session "Selling the Green Advantage," as Carol Coletta from CEOs for Cities and Robin Rather from Collective Strengths addressed effective messaging techniques to draw support for post-carbon human settlement. The challenge for sustainability is to demonstrate the impact and benefits of New Urbanist-style development -- that compact, mixed-use neighborhoods really do reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) for example.
     -- Riding the rails. New Urbanism's focus on transit-oriented development is paying off with renewed interest in transit infrastructure, and President Obama's high-speed rail initiative holds much promise with the group.
     -- LEED-ND in the works. Standards for the green good-housekeeping seal of approval for entire neighborhoods and not just individual buildings are coming together, and several Denver-area projects, such as Stapleton and Bel-Mar, were put to the test. Interestingly, the Highlands Village neighborhood scored low on some measures because a street was deemed too wide and there was only one floor of street-fronting retail in one section.
     -- Dark age ahead. Author James Howard Kunstler was in typical form with his analysis that the US financial system is broken "at every level," making it impossible to return to the oil-based arrangements to which we've grown accustomed. He argues that a much more locally based economy is on the horizon, with small cities depending on proximate farmland.
     -- Duany says no mas. Reflecting on his experiences building the Katrina cottage on the Gulf Coast and modular housing, DPZ's Andres Duany made the surprising conclusion that architects had only one choice to create affordable, simple homes: designing a better mobile home. Trades contractors and government-imposed permitting and inspection requirements obliterate the savings achieved in low-cost housing construction, he said.
   Blog posts and tweets are abundantly available via the conference Web site, plus postings at The Huffington Post.

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