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Our Favorite Congresses: A Look Ahead With Reflection

The 2022 Congress (CNU-30) will once again be in-person. It’s been two years since the Congress has been held in a city with people actually standing next to each other. In anticipation of the resumption of tours, meetings, lectures, panels, and networking, CNU Midwest editors asked a few Congress veterans to write about the most memorable Congress they attended: in-person.

Dan Baisden

Administrator – Neighborhood Planning and Activation, City of Fort Wayne, Indiana

Photo Credit: Congress for the New Urbanism; Adam Cook

CNU 24 Detroit was my first taste of the annual event. Attending while still trying to figure out my career path into planning, I was inundated with the best of what CNU has to offer its members during Congress.

Detroit was my favorite Congress for several reasons. First, it was where you could say CNU Midwest was born. I had the opportunity to meet John Yung, who at the time had been working with others to form a Cincinnati-based Chapter, but CNU National recommended we look broader and include Indiana and Kentucky. Secondly, I had a chance to play Cards Against Urbanity against Jeff Speck (using his own card), meet some of the people who I thought were new urbanist idols, including Chuck Marohn and Andres Duany, and listen to my favorite keynote speech ever, with former Charleston South Carolina Mayor Joe Riley.

Detroit changed me, not only because it was great to see CNU so close to home, but because CNU showed the world the grit, desire, and passion of Detroiters and Midwesterners that when the going gets tough, we don't give up, we just try harder.

Jocelyn Gibson

Senior Consultant – ZONE Co

For me, the most memorable congress was in Buffalo, New York in 2014. The congress started out with a bang, literally – my overnight bus from Cincinnati to Buffalo caught on fire on the highway and we had to be evacuated and transported by coach. It was a bit surreal – they had to shut the highway down while the bus burned to a charred metal frame. The moment is seared into my memory.

I was writing for the blog UrbanCincy at the time and I was able to speak to several of the keynote speakers about their work. I was honored to spend an afternoon with the brilliant, late Ben Hamilton-Baillie. Enrique Penalosa joined us for a moment. That was also surreal for me as a young planner. We spent a long time discussing the barriers to the provision and safety of bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

I developed an appreciation for Buffalo while there – they were undertaking several really large, progressive projects within the City. I think the sheer concentration of ideas and innovators sold me on CNU – from that moment forward, I became part of the movement. I appreciate the way it has evolved to elevate the issues of equity and climate change, and I look forward to seeing the continued innovation spurred by the members of this organization.

Joe Nickol

Principal – Yard & Company

The 20th Congress in West Palm Beach leaps out at me as perhaps one of the most impactful.

Ten years ago, this was the setting in which the once-disparate proto-movements of lean and tactical urbanisms; Strong Towns; incrementalism; and the Neighborhood Playbook coalesced. At that Congress, their philosophy and practice transitioned from the fringes in Place Summits and late-night beverages into the common vernacular they find themselves in today.

For me it is a powerful reminder of the importance of the Congresses as a marketplace for practical ideas and why CNU continues to be the strongest, most adaptable and most welcoming association of city builders that exists today.

Jeff Raser, Owner

Cincinnati Urban Design and Architecture Studio (CUDA Studio)

CNU 11 was my favorite Congress. It was my first and remains for me the most professionally impactful. The theme of the Congress was “Ideals to Reality: The Evolving City”.

It was 2003 and I was a young(er) architect who was transitioning from a focus on designing buildings to designing neighborhoods and public places. I was the project architect for two HOPE VI projects in Cincinnati and was, therefore, chin-deep in working with traffic engineers, planners, housing providers (both low-income and market rate), and residents. I had read many books, manuals, and articles on the theories of how cities should be planned and built but now I was in the position of having to shape those concepts into concrete, brick, and grass. The greatest challenge was persuading those who either didn’t understand pedestrian-oriented urbanism or who opposed it.

At the Congress I sat next to seasoned practitioners who shared their war stories. I toured projects (including Kentlands) which originated as ideas opposed by many. I listened to planners and designers who had successfully created places worthy of pride against the odds.

CNU 11 gave me confidence, mental ammunition, and practical – yet inspirational - resources. It made me realize knowledge, tenacity and being part of a larger movement are powerfully influential.

John Yung

Senior Project Executive – Urban Fast Forward

For me, CNU 22 in Buffalo, NY is a favorite.

There is something exciting about attending your first Congress. But, for me, it was a literal adventure as the Megabus my friend (and current CNU Board member) Jocelyn were taking to Buffalo broke down and caught fire just outside of Erie, PA.

Once we arrived, we settled into the Congress sessions. One of the great things about this Congress was how accessible thought leaders in the field are to other attendees. There were active discussions with thought leaders throughout New Urbanism happening in the sessions, in the halls and at the bars. Pub crawls connected us; ideas flowed as easily as brews from the tap. Through one conversation, I made a connection that led me to be on a StrongTowns podcast happening at the Congress. Buffalo also showed its grand character and charm, from tours along the lakefront to a rusty yet reviving party among grain silos.

I’ve attended plenty of Congress since, yet nothing (so far) beats this for me.

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