The Congress for the New Urbanism convened its regional meeting last weekend at the Disneyland for intellectuals known as the Chautauqua Institution, confined except for walking tours to the facility’s grande dame of a hotel, the Athenaeum, a circa 1880 beauty so untouched by any century than its own, a guest expects gaslights and crank-driven telephones in the rooms.
“New Urbanism” is a concept sweeping the circles of architecture, urban planning and regional government. It’s the idea that communities should be for people; cars should not have precedence, houses should be built so the garage door is not the most prominent feature and priority should be given to the citizen walking, not driving.
So all over America and particularly in small towns rebuilding themselves, the principles of New Urbanism are at work, and this weekend convention at the Institution, itself a very walkable community, brought 200 or so proponents of this very desirable municipal lifestyle together.
Some of the movement’s heavy hitters were there. Victor Dover. John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee. Mayor Dyster of Niagara Falls attended, as did television cameras, book sellers and people preparing for the CNU national convention in 2014 (in Buffalo).
The hallmarks of new urbanism, again, include a respect for people and a certain old-fashionedness about things (call it a return to civility in public planning). The city of Barcelona seems to get high marks from this crowd. To get from place to place, you tend to walk. Quirky buildings are tolerated; old and new architecture co-exist nicely. The idea of mixed-use neighborhoods, that you shop where you live instead of going to the mall in a car, is assumed. Sidewalks of main streets are lined with brick instead of concrete, with flowers on the lamp posts and frequent places to stop, sit and chat. That’s why this crowd is in love with Barcel ...