CNU 19: The Uprising

Like my anniversary, family birthdays and selected holidays, the Congress for the New Urbanism is an annual ceremony that I faithfully attend. My lovely wife would confirm that I never question the necessary time and money spent to participate in the congresses. And, as expected, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at CNU 19 in Madison, Wisconsin, even though I had to leave a couple days in…

It was during a late night conversation with Steve Mouzon about marketing when I realized that I took a ceremonial approach to the Congresses. The demarcation, from when the congresses went from being a professional networking event to a more personal ritual, occurred during the CNU 13 — Pasadena. Because I was on the host committee helping to organize and coordinate the event, I spent the entire congress busily trying to keep the circus tent up and the quality of the event worthy of everyone’s time and money. It was while I was scurrying around Pasadena’s convention center, touring a bus through San Diego, and missing pretty much every session when I finally understood what Douglas Duany meant when he said, “the congress actually occurs in the hallways between the sessions.”

The real congress, hiding in plain sight.

Those hallways are where I met my colleagues, friends, and collaborators. It is where we made dinner/drinks arrangements, discussed projects, and took a few minutes to shake hands and say hello. Like walking down main street in new urban-topia, I bumped into people I knew, admired, and had been wanting to meet. It’s these moments that I enjoy as much as learning the latest techniques in the sessions, if not more. Because I can buy the book on the new technique, but I can’t buy the opportunity to watch Ian Rasmussen groove out as a DJ.

Ian Rasmussen: Funk Soul Brother. Credit: Jim Kumon

A few personal highlights from this year’s Congress included: getting my autographed copy of Bill Dennis’ self-published book of his watercolors, “Draw Your Own Conclusion;” our Mini-Magical Mystery Tour through Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison; watching the Camp brothers discuss their latest Cotton District a la Vicenzia rad building while on the NextGen pub crawl; and, finally, the audacity and invigoration of Ian Rasmussen, Glenn Kellogg, Payton Chung, Matthew Lambert and Karja Hansen’s Urban Project Lodge.

New Urban Jets and Sharks come to rumble. Credit: Dan Bartman.

The Project Lodge was so contemporary, and in-the-moment, that I felt like an elder statesman, which was new for me. The social media networks were blazing during the Project Lodge events. We responded to live Twitter feeds of our discussions while Steve Mouzon blogged an idea and I found out which restaurant Geoff ‘Checked In’ at on Facebook. Even this blog, now five days after the event, is already passé with the MindMixer crew currently discussing new ideas for next year’s CNU on their Public Square. And, judging from the picture above, the free red cups were a great marketing tool to promote the Project Lodge.

Sans any real debate outside of the hallways, as we really haven’t discussed this yet as a congress, it does appear that the New Urbanist approach is now America’s planning orthodoxy. Who doesn’t plan for mixed-use, walkable urbanism these days? No, I’m not saying that everyone knows HOW to build these types of places but, attend any planning and design conference, such as APA, or review any comp plan and without labeling whatever topic being discussed as New Urbanism, all of the elements we have been promoting over the past 20-30 years are now fully embedded — sacrosanct and unquestioned. See these offerings from Plantizen and Grist.

Hooray! We made it! So… now what?

Well, I recommend we keep our eyes on the kids who are organizing NextGen events, planning Project Lodge insurrections, tweeting Tactical Urbanism copies, and filling social networks with content. They are the ones wrangling the Great Recession with new ideas. They are living the religion of sustainability and will embody its built response. And, they are the ones who will work their entire professional careers in an unstable oil economy as it careens out of control and our country invades Venezuela or some such nonsense.

How they deal with the challenges of planning and urban design in the 21st century will probably end up defining the course that, over time, wider audiences will take. And, after watching them challenge a brand new orthodoxy last weekend, I sort of trust ‘em with that responsibility. I look forward to seeing them in the hallways next year in West Palm Beach. Something tells me it’s going to be worthwhile already.

The Urban Project Lodge spills out into the street. Credit: Aurash Khawarzad.

–Howard Blackson


  1. Great title, Howard… and excellent post as well… thanks! I have several videos to post from the Project Lodge… will get them up soon.

  2. One more thing… for the record, you opened the Project Lodge discussion with “Welcome to the insurrection,” not “Welcome to the uprising.”

  3. In this fast-paced world the Project Lodge folk may find themselves as the center of a new orthodoxy much sooner than they expect. (It certainly happened that way for the boomers in CNU.)

    The first move down the slippery slope of convention is the emergence of senior statesmen 😉

  4. Good to know that you’re not likely to miss CNU20, HB. Because, to quote Al Jolson, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

  5. The Project Lodge was a great innovation. It was so nice to have a place embedded within the community. It truly felt like a scouting operation–avant-garde, even. Like any uprising or revolution, the work of the NextGen will only be successful and long lasting if it builds on the work of the current realities. New Urbanism orthodoxy and theology are going to be great topics for all of us to discuss and debate moving forward. Because we are moving forward.

  6. The NextGen may be the greatest achivement of the CNU legacy.

  7. Ann Daigle says

    “Youth is not a period of life, it is a condition of the spirit, a result of the will, a quality of the imagination, an intensity of emotion, a victory of courage over timidity, a taste for adventure over comfort. One becomes old when one abandons one’s ideals.”
    – Douglas MacArthur 1945

    Ready for the r(E)volution,

  8. I agree with Steve, I think you helped us get things kicked off and building an energy in the room. By the time I closed the Lodge out on Friday afternoon, with my second session on Cultural Urbanism, I felt like we had a good space to explore and deal with issues that we needed to address.

    Thank you for believing in all of us and I look forward to seeing you in W. Palm Beach, if not sooner.

  9. So how can we construct a Congress where everyone can be in the hallways all the time? Record panel events in advance and then play them on video in booths the trade show? Make Calthorpe, Duany, and Polyzoides stand on soapboxes in the hall, in “speaker’s corner” fashion, and compete for our attention? Could be very streetlike and urban, actually!

  10. Robert Sharp says

    Is there going to be a Project Lodge at CNU20?

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