We’re going back to the future. The Congress for the New Urbanism started as a hard-working, interactive meeting of the minds where the few hundred attendees were actively engaged in moving forward the mission of urbanism. As the years wore on and the Congress grew in numbers, education became more central to CNU’s mission and the annual Congress started to look more like a classroom than a parliament. Fast forward to CNU 20.
The dynamism is back. Rapid-fire “Open Innovation” presentations in the “basement” play to a packed full room and when time permits overflow into debate and discussion. Panels are conversations rather than just a series of related presentations. New designs are critiqued in the hallways. The Open Source room is constantly abuzz with conversation. The Art Room has hands-on demonstrations. Member-led initiatives to solve problems and spread new solutions to larger audiences are popping up left and right.
CNU is offering more free content. In conjunction with this increase in interactive content, CNU is posting more of the “presentation” style content on web for free. Several of the plenaries were broadcast live on the web and we expect to see the slides with audio from most of the breakouts going up on the web soon. In addition we’ve had great video content going up from First + Main and others. This is a momentous development. In this new age holding intellectual content close to the vest is not necessarily the best way to maximize revenue for the organization so they can continue their important work and is certainly no the most efficient way spread our message. We, as urbanists, want as many people as possible to understand our mission and so they might be partners in future projects and change the built environment for the better.
And it’s good timing. The world of information is rapidly changing. Planners and Architects are getting their continuing education credits from free webinars. TED.com is a leader in intellectual content offering high quality, well-produced content “Free to the World”. People don’t need to buy cross-country plane tickets to hear educational content. What they do need to cross the country for is dynamic, compressed, interactive work-shopping of the ideas that will carry their practice and our movement forward in the following year.
In order for the Congress as an event to stay relevant the model must evolve, and it is doing so. Attendees need to be present for the tumultuous exchanges that are difficult to capture on podcast and to contribute to those debates. New participants need to learn by engaging and getting their intellects in gear. They need to make non-digital eye contact with the people who have the potential to be their colleagues, friends, and workmates for the next decades. Even if we see much more of our engagement moving to the digital sphere, shaking hands with your re-tweeter or listserve sparring partner enhances the digital experience, defusing tension, and helping participants to understand the personalities and perspectives they are engaging with when they return to the web.
My next post will get into a little more detail on the new types of content at CNU and how they’re succeeding. In the meantime, hats off to CNU for recognizing the changing world and being nimble enough to meet it.