CNU 20: Inspiring, Engaging, and Exhausting

CNU 20 in West Palm Beach, FL was my first Congress and will certainly not be my last. The four day congress felt like a month, but I mean that in the best of ways. From before breakfast to late at night on the dance floor, my mind was constantly stimulated from the conversation, critique and reflection on where CNU is today after 20 years and where it is heading into the future. It was energizing.

My experience began with the one day NextGen Congress, which is focused on giving a voice and inspiration to the next generation of New Urbanists. The NextGen movement is not a rouge sleeper cell waiting for the right moment to strike and take over CNU but rather a collection of extremely passionate and brilliant young thinkers who have been challenged by the “old guard” to test convention and push the movement to the next iteration. What followed were many excellent sessions on topics ranging from tactical urbanism: small, quasi legal interventions that can lead to serious change, to more philosophical topics such as the paradox of emerging cities and whether skyscrapers have a role in the post peak oil city.

Attempting to summarize my time at the congress in a few lines of text is simply impossible and does not give justice to the experience of being around and talking with so many great thinkers and practitioners. What surprised me was the amount of work that was started and discussed at the congress. The Congress’s strength is its constant critique and the persistence on improvement all of its members share. Unlike some other conferences I have attended (that will remain nameless), that have the feel of a vacation and a time to talk at a crowd about the success of your project, CNU with its relentless collaboration and critique was not a time to ruminate about the past but rather a opportunity to innovate and brainstorm for the future.

This was not a vacation; I was in a town named for its beach and never even touched the water. My only regret is that I did not tape all of the conversations I had at the bar, in between sessions, or in the median of the arterial dividing the conference center with the city. These conversations and debates have sparked new ideas in my head and have prompted me to question others. At its core, this is what the CNU is all about, and what I plan on continuing back in Colorado and carrying on until Salt Lake City next year, where you will be sure to find me.

Steven Chester


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