During the Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual conference, CNU 20: The New World, held last week in West Palm Beach, I had the opportunity to interview author James Howard Kunstler. Kunstler is the author of The Long Emergency, The Geography of Nowhere, the World Made by Hand novels and is a leading critic and social commentator on the American landscape of suburban sprawl.
Over lunch in downtown West Palm’s new urbanism-inspired development, CityPlace, I pried Jim about bus travel in Florida, nostalgia for transit, the state of our current rail system, his own oil paintings (featured in the slideshow) and more.
Special thanks to Duncan Crary for allowing me to use his audio equipment for the interview. Crary hosts a weekly podcast with Jim called the Kunstlercast, posted each Thursday at Kunstlercast.com.
The 20th annual Congress of the New Urbanism is being held in West Palm Beach this year, and for lovers of human-scaled urbanism there is no other place to be. For those of you new to the game, the congress is a meeting of the brightest American urban minds. We commiserate, share the work of the past year, and create new connections with other like-minded professionals.
If you have never been to a Congress it can be overwhelming at first. This is not your typical corporate conference. You won’t find sessions on ‘Negotiating Skills for Planners’ or ‘Airport Land-Use Districts’ (both sessions from a recent planning conference). Instead, the congress is the incubator for the latest ideas shaping our cities — a dynamic event where folks bring ideas that they have been brewing during the previous year to discuss with thinkers from around the country.
It’s fitting that CNU 20 began with the NextGen Congress within a Congress, where young New Urbanists set the stage for the rest of the week. Presentations have ranged from Misunderstood Mobility, to Tactical Urbanism. Throughout all the disparate sessions runs a strong undercurrent of self-critique — a spirit of constructive criticism that is central to the practice of good urbanism.
Massachusetts urban planner Jennifer Krouse made this insightful critique about the Congress itself: “Meeting in a conference center is convenient, but it has a way of segregating us from the city we’re in, and when we leave, there’s no sign that we’ve ever been there. Which is pretty funny when you consider that the CNU is a meeting composed almost entirely of people whose mission is placecraft.”
This is the sort of discussion that takes place at CNU – brutally honest – and not just about our broken pattern of development, but how we as a professional organization hope to move forward.
For lovers of urbanism, the annual Congress for the New Urbanism is an event to be anticipated all year. The annual conference brings together urban planners, architects, and policy makers to discuss the practice of urbanism. For many of us the Congress can feel like a family reunion – a time to celebrate the work of the past year with colleagues, and to reaffirm our commonly held beliefs in the principles of traditional town design.
This year the Congress is being held in West Palm Beach, and Transit Miami will be there all week to cover the events in a live blogging partnership with Next American City.
The CNU-Miami tour des urbanistes
We are starting our weeklong urbanism love-in by staging an epic tour des urbanistes bike ride from South Miami to West Palm Beach. Members of the local Congress for the New Urbanism Miami Chapter, led by CNU chair and South Miami resident Victor Dover, will embark early Tuesday morning on the 90 mile journey to West Palm Beach. Stay tuned…we’ll have more for you along the way!
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