New urbanists descending on Atlanta this week, sharing their insights on healthy cities

If Atlanta feels a bit more flush with lofy ideas this week, credit the Congress for the New Urbanism.

The 18th annual meeting of the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU18) will bring more than 1,000 architects, planners and related professionals to Atlanta from Wednesday through Saturday.

The theme of CNU18 is “New Urbanism: Rx for Healthy Places.”

Two of Atlanta’s bright lights — Georgia Tech professor Ellen Dunham-Jones and architect Laura Heery Prozes — have been the local organizers of CNU18. They have explored every avenue to find ways for the Atlanta region to benefit from this influx of urban leaders.

They are partnering with a host of local organizations — from Central Atlanta Progress, the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Regional Commission, Southface, the Beltline, PATH to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — as a way to connect with the professionals who will be Atlanta for three exciting days.

“It’s an opportunity for Atlantans to learn more about sustainable urban design practices and for us to leverage the talent coming to town to advance better design and policies here,” Dunham-Jones wrote me in Atlanta.

She also added that the organization will try to answer the question of how can Atlanta better position itself to receive federal funding.

As part of CNU18, there will be a series of “urban labs,” when attendees will help metro Atlantans advance their thinking on how to make downtown more water-efficient; how to connect downtown with the Beltline and the Cumberland Community Improvement District by bicycle; how to help rejuvenate towns along the route of the Athens-Atlanta-Macon passenger rail line, Dunham-Jones said.

Several dignataries also will be involved with the program.

On Wednesday evening, David Byrne, the frontman of Talking Heads, will be the keynote speaker at the Tabernacle. But instead of singing about Psycho Killers, Byrne will be talking about cities and bicycles.

Another keynote speaker will be U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan. On Friday morning, he will talk about “Partnering to Support Sustainable Communities.”

One of the founders of the Congress, architect Andres Duany, also will be part of the program. Innovative architect and planner Peter Calthrope of California also will be part of the program.

Dunham-Hones said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell, developers, designers, public health officials, architects and planners all will participate in the program.

There will be programs on transit-oriented-developments with MARTA officials. And Dunham-Jones will speak about her expertise — Retrofitting Suburbia.

In addition to her session, Dunham-Jones said there will be breakout meetings on implementation and finance, sustainable transportation, green design, code reform, affordability and aging, planning for water stewardship, public policy, public places, and social equity with public health issues woven throughout.”

For more the complete schedule, click on www.cnu.org/cnu18. http://www.cnu.org/cnu18/

Dunham-Jones said that within CNU18, there will be an all-day “Next Gen” conference, which is a free event and does not require any registration. It is targeted to people who are in their 20s and 30s, but it’s open to everyone. Next Gen will be held at the downtown Hilton on May 20. That will be followed by a Thursday night pub crawl. Clicke here for more info. to http://cnunextgen.org/

There also will be another free workshop on Wednesday, May 19 on “Building safer streets for healthier neighborhoods. That session will be held from 9 a.m. to noon at the downtown Atlanta Hilton in Salon C.

In short, the Congress for the New Urbanism is a wonderful opportunity for Atlanta to broaden its thinking about the links between good urban design, healthier communities and a high quality of life.

Welcome to town CNU18.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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