I have returned from the Congress for the New Urbanism in Buffalo, and it is taking me an extraordinary amount of time to organize my thoughts.
Many of you have already shared your thoughts and impressions of the Congress. This year, it is taking me longer to share what I learned and experienced during the Congress. One reason is that I have an energized 18 month old running and grabbing everything in sight. The other reason is that there were several impactful sessions I attended. I really want to take the time to dig into each of these ideas.
Here is a really quick brain dump of things I am thinking about.
1. Tactical Urbanism is not just for hipsters and dissidents. Tactical Urbanism is a build, measure, learn, approach to building here at places. Mike Lydon explains it best with this simple idea: instead of sitting at a meeting discussing what you are going to do, just use the meeting to do something.
2. Lean Urbanism has the brightest minds working on defining a streamlined approach to building projects. The process to define Lean is as complex as cities. Something good will come out of this, but it may be in six volumes.
3. A new group of faith-based urbanists are emerging out of the Congress for New Urbanism. Quietly over the years faith-based design has been present in the Congress, but has never been highlighted. This group is working to share these projects, and begin to outline the various obstacles in cities when developing projects like churches.
4. The Strong Towns Boot Camp is traveling to other cities. This hands on workshop returns planning to cities through the eyes of City management and Leadership. I encourage more of our cities to host a Boot Camp. 5. The Next American Urbanism shared their Charter. Expect more from this group which will add depth to the New Urbanism dialogue.
6. Chuck Marohn is an engineer, planner, and now a comedian? That’s right, Chuck hosted a Late Show during a Next Gen event. You can watch the opener here. Once again, Chuck shows us all that he can break the mold.
7. Every city needs to do a pop up event. Pop up events are not hosted because they are actions. The local host committee held several different pop up events in Buffalo during the Congress. I enjoyed the two parklets on the street in front of the Lafayette Hotel. The impact was amazing. First, this event was open to everyone in the city. A handful of the most passionate participants were not attending the Congress. They wanted to make their city better through positive action. Secondly, the Lafayette Hotel is part hotel, part condo, with ground floor commercial. the residents of the building showed up and started asking questions. They wanted to know more, and how they could participate. I actually heard one couple explain that if they new about the event sooner, they would have changed their evening plans to hang out in the parklets.
8. Buffalo has something that is critical to its successful future: history. Cities like Buffalo, are unique. The vast depopulation of these cities have sent refugees of the city across the country. I met several of these refugees that are returning. They are returning because of their family history, or childhood memories of the city. This is a powerful draw that will never show up in a market study, and can never be recreated in a new city. Buffalo needs to embrace this and use this to their advantage.
9. When you tear up a street, first, you do not have to put it back the way you found it. Secondly, you do not have to isolate roadway features into grooves. Victor Dover and John Massengale’s book Street Design highlights how we have gone overboard in the advancement of Complete Streets by separating every user into a tidy groove in the street. Ben Hamilton-Baillie shared how projects like his work in Poynton can prioritize the pedestrian by mixing users.
10. The Congress for the New Urbanism raised the bar with their Charter Awards. For the first time, they did not select a recipient for one of the categories. This is an important decision, and the selection committee should be commended. The Congress needs to continue to raise the bar on these submissions.
As you can see, the time in Buffalo was well worth the trip. I expect more to come.