May 31 2013

Lean Urbanism with Andrés Duany: Thursday Morning Plenary of The Congress for the New Urbanism’s CNU21


Founding principal at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company and Congress for the New Urbanism cofounder, Andrés Duany, discussed the post-recession future of new urbanism. His major theme was “Lean Urbanism,” or a harmony between “green” building (though not necessarily LEED certified as he often joked), sustainability, and economic efficiency.

He envisioned a future that chose to follow a path of simplicity and opportunity by trimming down the bureaucracy, or red tape, to the simple necessities akin to the development codes of the 1970s. He called this lightened process “pink tape.”

Duany argued that tactical urbanism is needed due to the thickness and slowness of the bureaucratic process. He claims that the movement was created out of necessity.

One of my favorite perspectives Duany offered commented on the future of non-renewable resources. He said, “Oil is never going to run out, but it will never be cheap again.” This clearly illustrated the connection between development and price fluctuations due to scarcity. I think it says that we’ll soon be faced with an entirely new worldwide engineering issue: how do we build effective and affordable streets that don’t require oil for their construction? How can this be applied to currently existing streets that require maintenance? Duany said that the major problem America has today is the abundance of land. While that’s often seen as a strength, maintaining a larger area to any degree in any way is more expensive than a smaller area, almost regardless of density.

Duany described his notion of a vernacular mind. He explains that, “It is the ability to compose from memory and circumstance, with found materials, of working sequentially through anything and everything, with craft but not perfection.” He said, “Redneck engineering is the future.”

He noted that Salt Lake City’s unusually wide downtown right-of-ways (130 ft across) were a blessing, not a curse, because, “the large block was… meant to be cut down.” Noting the currency-less and barter-heavy utopia Wallace Stegner described in Mormon Country, he said, “Money’s not helpful.” He explained that the Mormons built a great urban foundation simply with intelligence and good management, not money.

Duany said that the model of architecture schools is crashing. “I don’t care about college… what counts is the firms [job applicants are applying from].” He said that he’d rather educate and certify students independently through the Congress, completely bypassing universities. His justification for such a movement is that “graduates” from the Congress would be competent, and employers could choose past Congress “students” with confidence, knowing that they were getting someone with real-world experience and expertise.

What do you think would happen if development regulations in the U.S. instantly went back to their 1970s standards right this moment?

Credits: Photo 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 Friday, May 31st, 2013 at 11:03 pm and is filed under Architecture, CNU 21, Education and Careers, Energy, Engineering, Environment, Environmental Design, Government/Politics, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Technology, The Congress for the New Urbanism, 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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