International Gathering of New Urbanists in Detroit

The Congress for the New Urbanism convenes this week in Detroit for CNU24. Detroit is a perfect place to see the good and the bad, the new and the old, and what works and what doesn’t in city life. The 1,500 participants are in for a great experience in my hometown.

Gem Theatre

CNU24 participants gather in the Gem Theatre

I’ll be blogging about important takeaways from the conference as they happen, so check back often if you want the latest and greatest- at least according to me.

Not familiar with CNU? Check out the CNU Charter below for what the movement means to its members.


The Congress for the New Urbanism views disinvestment in central cities, the spread of placeless sprawl, increasing separation by race and income, environmental deterioration, loss of agricultural lands and wilderness, and the erosion of society’s built heritage as one interrelated community-building challenge.

We stand for the restoration of existing urban centers and towns within coherent metropolitan regions, 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.

We advocate the restructuring of public policy and development practices to support the following principles: neighborhoods should be diverse in use and population; communities should be designed for the pedestrian and transit as well as the car; cities and towns should be shaped by physically defined and universally accessible public spaces and community institutions; urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.

We recognize that physical solutions by themselves will not solve social and economic problems, but neither can economic vitality, community stability, and environmental health be sustained without a coherent and supportive physical framework.

We represent a broad-based citizenry, composed of public and private sector leaders, community activists, and multidisciplinary professionals. We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.

We dedicate ourselves to reclaiming our homes, blocks, streets, parks, neighborhoods, districts, towns, cities, regions, and environment.


From Kaid Benfield. “We need to aspire to build places that people love. They won’t be sustained if people don’t love them.”  Are you listening suburbia?

“The greenest buildings are those already built.” Ditto for suburbia.

Andres Duany spoke this morning about Detroit’s attraction for young people. Increasing numbers of young entrepreneurs are flocking to the city to launch their careers and be part of its rebirth. A double bottom line, if you will. I can tell you that you can see it in the buildings. on the streets and increasingly in the neighborhoods. The vibe is strong and the opportunities for enrichment personally and professionally are boundless.

Bogota, Colombia regularly closes 70 miles of streets to make them bike/walk friendly. It is referred to as the “Open Streets” concept. The policy has confirmed health gains among  citizens and increases in property values as a result. Small businesses chart growth as well. Several Latin American cities have followed suit. Seattle is a leader among U.S. cities. Thank you Mike Lydon for being a real leader in this area.

The Belt Detroit

The Belt- an ally in downtown Detroit

An observation for locals. If you haven’t been to downtown or midtown Detroit lately then you haven’t been. And… in five more years it will barely be recognizable. Amazing growth. A cool combination of large scale investment and grassroots activation.

If you are looking for a good data  that supports the economic case for dense, urban development than check out Joe Minicozzi, principal Urban3. His analysis of building patterns in cities is game changing. *SPOILER ALERT- WalMart style big boxes suck.

Below is a picture that proves that public spaces don’t have to be big and expertly planned to be effective. This spot is just to the west of the Gem Theatre and measures 60 feet long and 10 feet wide, but it is a perfect spot to blog from and one of my new favorite hideaways in the city. A good space needs to have a purpose (or, more accurate, purpose(s)) and be activated to match. This small oasis sits in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the theatre district and offers a place to relax and share conversation. And blog. The city owned park down the street is pretty and very well maintained. But there is nobody in it. Check out the Project for Public Spaces (PPS) for tips that make public places useful and appreciated.


Alley west of the Gem

I love you Miami Beach. I  really do. You have been a destination for my family and I for years. You are a charming blend of great weather, unique architecture and international flair that is not found in other U.S. cities. I often tell my friends that Miami Beach is the only city in America that I visit where I feel like I’m in another country.

But… you need to get real. Projections have large swaths of your land being swallowed by a rising ocean tide in the coming decades. The suburbs west of the city of Miami are in trouble, too.

So start moving forward before it is too late- a combination of mitigation and adaptation is needed to deal with the long term effects of a rapidly changing climate. New urban style development is part of the answer.

One of my favorite parts of the CNU meetings is checking out the onsite bookstore. The books are great and provide me great information. But the reason its so cool is that 99% of the authors are sitting with you in meetings rand comparing notes on work. This makes it extra rewarding.

Economics of Place

The Bookstore at CNU

Oh look! There’s one of the books that Colleen Layton (in attendance), Liz Shaw and I wrote. I wonder how that got there?  If you’re not here (or even if you are) and you want to get the skinny on some fantastic placemaking achievements in Michigan, including several “how to” guides, then go here to order your copy of The Economics of Place: The Art of Building Great Communities. Thanks for your consideration.

Campus Martius

Campus Martius at 3 pm on a Thursday.

Campus Martius is a shining example of good urbanism and creative placemaking. It is located smack in the middle of downtown. The inner core of the space is a skating rink in the winter and a beach in the summer. Bars, stages, eating areas and a beautiful military monument (this was once a training area for Civil War era regiments) dot the landscape.  Everything we are learning this week is on display right here. You’ll find everybody here. Kids and grandparents. Lawyers and laborers. Hipsters and hagglers.