It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
– Charles Dickens
For American cities, it seems these are the best of times and these are the worst of times. “Cities,” some social critics contend “are obsolete. Cities are now a reminder that the country has lost its edge. In the United States it seemed for a time that cities were on the verge of obsolescence–being replaced as the centers of culture and economic growth by the sprawling suburb.
Denial and shallowness are not worthy of what Socrates called “the examined life.” Our capacity for self-delusion is strong. That is to say, we are always at least part of the problem. Sooner or later we will walk right into whatever we have been trying to avoid. Cities are changing their focus to streets that serve everyone, young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, transit user or shopkeeper.
Whatever the images in your mind, realize that we cannot continue to design our cities to block out the intrusions of the natural world. If we hope to transform our cities, we must build better cities – not using more controls, taller fences, or through effective leadership but through people willing to change – to become sustainable. Building a better city means moving beyond addressing issues in the same old way; to work together.
A new attitude, a new awareness is growing, and all over the country. Sustainability cannot happen at the global scale– that is far too vast to be knowable or controllable. It is the scale of the city capable of addressing the many urban architectural, social, economic, political and other imbalances besetting the modern world and simultaneously the smallest scale at which such problems can be meaningfully resolved.
For nearly twenty years, The Congress for the New Urbanism has promoted the hallmarks of New Urbanism, livable streets arranged in compact, walkable blocks. Their vision: liveable streets populated with a range of housing choices, schools, stores and other nearby destinations reachable by walking, bicycling or transit service.
We cannot allow the future to mimic the past. We need our inner cities and traditional communities to absorb as much of our anticipated growth as possible, to keep the impacts per increment of growth as low as possible. And, to do that, we need cities to be brought back to life with great neighborhoods.
Cities have only just begun to transition to the concept of net-zero, to the place where buildings, cars, factories and homes will be designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Embracing knowledge and creating awareness can reshape our lives and make the future more certain.
There are grounds for optimism. Times of stress can create opportunities. After all, we are living at a time when our lives can make a dramatic difference. Some cities are making a comeback. Cities competing for position among their global peers are re-branding themselves. They are becoming breeding grounds for new ideas, new forms of expression, and new waves of economic growth. In a race between what is and what could be, we have to make decisions based on the knowledge that they will affect a generation we will never see. These decisions will include an affirming, human-scaled public realm where appropriately designed buildings define and enliven streets and other public spaces.
The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is the leading organization promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities and healthier living conditions. Whether it be in brownfields, emerging growth areas, established cities, or small town suburbs, New Urbanism reinforces the character of existing areas in making them walkable, sustainable, and vibrant, revitalizing and energizing communities to their true potential. The principles of New Urbanism are central to making whole regions more livable, coherent and sustainable. Rebuilding neighborhoods, cities, and regions is profoundly interdisciplinary. Community, economics, environment, health and design need to be addressed simultaneously through urban design and planning.
CNU has emerged as the leading voice for the creation of sustainable, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods that provide for better health and economic outcomes. With members in 20 countries and 49 states, and support stemming from the local, federal and international level, our members work hard to promote policies that make cities and towns more engaging, vibrant and livable than ever.
CNU takes a proactive, multi-disciplinary approach to restoring our communities. With a history of forming productive alliances, they stand for the reconfiguration of sprawling suburbs into communities of real neighborhoods and diverse districts, the conservation of natural environments, and the preservation of our built legacy with partners that include the US Department of Housing and Urban Development on Hope VI, the US Environmental Protection Agency on Smart Growth, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration, and the US Green Building Council and Natural Resources Defense Council in creating the nation’s first rating system for green neighborhoods, the newly released LEED for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND)
CNU regularly draws over 1000 people per year to the Congress it still holds annually. Our annual gatherings bring together members of every field related to development – architects, landscape architects, planners, economists, real estate agents and developers, lawyers, government officials, educators, citizen activists, and students – who discuss issues and craft solutions related to the health and vitality of regions, towns, and neighborhoods.
Contributor Credit: Dennis Walsh is a research facilitator, writer, journalist, connector. Learn more about him … www.walshfuturist.com