Monday, April 20, 2009

Congress for the New Urbanism

Metro Green acknowledges and salutes Congress for the New Urbanism, a non-profit (501(c)(3) corporation) think tank dedicated to sustainability at the urban (city/neighborhood) level. From their "Who We Are" web link:

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is the leading organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl. CNU takes a proactive, multi-disciplinary approach to restoring our communities. Members are the life of the organization – they are the planners, developers, architects, engineers, public officials, investors, and community activists who create and influence our built environment, transforming growth patterns from the inside out. Whether it's bringing restorative plans to hurricane-battered communities in the Gulf Coast, turning dying malls into vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods, or reconnecting isolated public housing projects to the surrounding fabric, new urbanists are providing leadership in community building.

Our relationship with our members allows us to do more than just talk about the problems of the built environment. Together, we are creating tools that make it easier to put New Urbanism into practice around the world.

In March, CNU's John Norquist testified before Congress earning a cooperative response from Obama administration officials:

"...bringing a message about how federal investments in integrated networks of walkable streets and public transportation will strengthen communities, bolster regional economies and dramatically reduce carbon emissions and other environmental impacts. “For thousands of years, urban thoroughfares were used for commerce, movement, and social interaction,“ says Norquist. “Only in the 20th century did engineers start to think that traffic should be segregated from other activities. Increasingly though, Americans are turning away from the isolation of automobile-dependent areas and choosing to live in neighborhoods with traditional walkable street networks. Federal policies should reflect the choices people are making. The time for grade-separated highways as the centerpiece of federal transportation policy has come and gone.“

Two key Obama Administration officials sounded similar themes in a remarkable joint appearance before the same subcommittee yesterday: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Secretary Shaun Donovan of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The two cabinet officials used the joint appearance to announce a Sustainable Communities partnership “to help American families gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs.“ Although CNU and other reform organizations are eager to work with both agencies to put meat on the bones of these aspirations, the plans coming from both departments are highly promising. The NRDC's Kaid Benfield provides highlights of what's planned under this partnership in a posting at CNU's group blog:

“One of my highest priorities is to help promote more livable communities through sustainable surface transportation programs,” concluded Secretary LaHood yesterday.

Further exploration into the activities of CNU (and membership in the organization!) could prove useful and productive as we move forward toward a sustainable future. Kudos to the Obama administration for responding so positively to community-generated leadership.


  1. The solution to reducing the Carbon Footprint of cities is to increase density thus reducing the travel.

    Thus NYC has a much lower carbon footprint than Houston.

    The US Green Building Council has created a program for LEED certified neighborhoods.

    this would also help a great deal.

  2. From the web page Seamus cited on LEED Certified Neighborhoods:

    "Benefits of Developing a LEED for Neighborhood Development Community

    Encourage healthy living
    LEED for Neighborhood Development emphasizes the creation of compact, walkable, vibrant, mixed-use neighborhoods with good connections to nearby communities. Research has shown that living in a mixed-use environment within walking distance of shops and services results in increased walking and biking, which improve human cardiovascular and respiratory health and reduce the risk of hypertension and obesity.

    Reduce urban sprawl
    In order to reduce the impacts of urban sprawl, or unplanned, uncontrolled spreading of urban development into areas outside of the metropolitan region, and create more livable communities, LEED for Neighborhood Development communities are:

    * locations that are closer to existing town and city centers.
    * areas with good transit access.
    * infill sites.
    * previously developed sites.
    * sites adjacent to existing development.

    Typical sprawl development, low-density housing and commercial uses located in automobile-dependent areas, can harm the natural environment in a number of ways. It can consume and fragment farmland, forests and wildlife habitat; degrade water quality through destruction of wetlands and increased stormwater runoff; and pollute the air with increased automobile travel.

    Protect threatened species
    Fragmentation and loss of habitat are major threats to many imperiled species. LEED encourages compact development patterns and the selection of sites that are within or adjacent to existing development to minimize habitat fragmentation and also help preserve areas for recreation.

    Increase transportation choice and decrease automobile dependence.
    These two things go hand-in-hand; convenient transportation choices such as buses, trains, car pools, bicycle lanes and sidewalks, for example, are typically more available near downtowns, neighborhood centers and town centers, which are also the locations that produce shorter automobile trips."