May 15 2013

Thinking Globally, Building Locally: CNU21 Preview Podcast Summary

This post summarizes the CNU21 Preview Podcast, “Thinking Globally, Building Locally.” CNU21 is this year’s annual Congress for the New Urbanism conference and will be held at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah May 29th through June 1st, 2013.

For this podcast preview, John Norquist, the current President of the Congress for the New Urbanism asked Bob Dean, the Deputy Executive Director for Local Planning with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), and Christie Oostema, Planning Director at Envision Utah, questions about how their cities are thinking globally but building locally.

If you hadn’t already gathered, Chicago is a focus city because the Congress for the New Urbanism is based in the windy city. Envision Utah is based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Norquist began the podcast with a very intriguing if not deeply concerning fast fact: The Salt Lake City metropolitan area is home to the fastest-growing rail system in North America, while Chicago is home to the second largest but one of the slowest-growing rail systems on the continent.

Christie Oostema

Oostema was asked how Utah is a very republican-leaning state while still choosing to invest in public rail systems, even going so far as to tax themselves for rail extensions. She replied that though the state is notably “red,” the people of Utah are very pragmatic. Oostema rhetorically asked, “We plan for things in our daily lives, why wouldn’t we plan for our region and future generations?”

She said that Envision Utah’s careful approach to planning and public transit as a practical investment rather than a political move has been crucial to their success.

As part of the public participation process, citizens were divided into small groups and given large problem area maps. They were given markers to draw transportation route lines and chips representing various land uses. They were then given their practical challenge to solve: “Where would you put a million new people? Where would their jobs be? How would you get them around?”

The collective body then created three alternative scenarios inspired by the best ideas presented by the small groups. By culminating trending choices made by participants, all felt as if they owned the alternatives and therefore owned part of the plan. Oostema later noted that, “people are learning through process.”

Oostema said that the LDS church administration has embraced Envision Utah’s efforts from the beginning, and that the LDS church’s participation has been a “major piece [to the] huge partnership puzzle.” She claims that taking the time to cultivate the relationships with partners has been worth the effort and investment because “everyone came to the table.”

Bob Dean

Norquist asked Dean about Chicago’s 2040 long range plan. Dean replied that the major goals of the plan include preservation of their established communities and the preservation of Chicago’s transit system. He and his team hopes to extend the rail line five miles south of where it stops now. Overall, though, they want to get their transit system into a “state of good repair.” To Dean, that means a system that can operate without slows, well-maintained bridges, and a modernized system that incorporates new technological solutions.

Chicago’s 2040 plan also emphasizes infill development to minimize the need to build new infrastructure. Dean declared that aside from market incentives, infrastructure investments drive where growth occurs.

Norquist asked Oostema, “How big is Salt Lake [City] going to get?” She replied that the state is expecting a population boom and to become one of the fastest growing states in the country. She told us that Salt Lake City is expect to grow by 2 million people by 2050. Oostema announced that Salt Lake City wants to maximize their rail system when considering future land use decisions, and that the area is “absolutely” ready for more TOD, or transit-oriented development. She pointed out that 35% of the traffic to the University in Salt Lake City and its adjacent business center is on train.

Norquist asked Oostema where she sees Salt Lake City fitting into the constellation of great American cities. She said, “My hope for Salt Lake City is to be a stunning example for a playbook for new western cities.” She added that she’d like to see Utah’s capital become an enthusiastic laboratory for all things creative and finding best practices.

Norquist asked Dean how CMAP gets involved with communities. Dean said that through a HUD grant, Chicago has a local technical assistance program. Communities have to compete for planning assistance. Partnering consulting firms are sometimes contracted for additional aid.

Norquist made a brief statement of his own. He noted that 25% of those who live under the poverty line live in a “subsidized situation,” meaning that they accept public assistance in some way. He stated that segmenting incomes geographically through housing has created a monoculture. It can make it hard for people to find a living situation they desire. He remarked that he believes the issue of segmented housing is a “great upcoming civil rights issue.” Norquist encouraged the return of AUD’s (auxiliary dwelling units) and the approval of units that face alleyways to allow low-income residents to live in more expensive buildings.

In a closing statement, Oostema reaffirmed that CNU21 is more of a site-based congress/conference. She also noted that Salt Lake City has historically encouraged gardens and even small orchards in urban backyards. Apparently, this development pattern is still visible in air photos.

Some brief, unrelated, or repetitive segments were cut in interest of length.

Where do you see Salt Lake City fitting into the constellation of great American cities? Twenty years from now? A hundred years from now?

Credit: Images and references linked to sources.

Aascot Holt

Aascot Holt is an undergraduate at Eastern Washington University, pursuing a major in Urban and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography. She will graduate in the spring of 2013. She is from Stevenson, WA and currently lives in Spokane, WA in a brick 1936 kit house. She is most intrigued by small-city and small town planning, parks and recreation planning, long-range planning, and historic preservation. She hopes to continue her habit of being involved with many planning projects at a time, and fears being pigeonholed. Aascot maintains the “Being A Planning Student” Tumblr as well as her planning-centric blog, The Comprehensive. She is currently writing Cheney, WA’s entirely new comprehensive parks, recreation, and trails plan, completely pro bono. More can be learned about her endeavors via LinkedIn.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 15th, 2013 at 9:18 am and is filed under CNU 21, Community/Economic Development, Content, Education and Careers, Engineering, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Land Use, Social/Demographics, The Congress for the New Urbanism, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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