The Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) held their 27th annual conference this past June in Louisville, KY, which drew in over 1,500 urbanists, developers, and more from across the nation.
For those unfamiliar with CNU, it is a nonprofit dedicated to improving communities across the country by building walkable and accessible neighborhoods, cities, and towns. CNU believes in investing in the restoration of town centers and surrounding areas, neighborhood diversity, implementing pedestrian- and transit-friendly roads, and other means to increase community functionality. In essence, CNU espouses what it calls “human-scaled design,” which prioritizes creating small centers for housing, shopping, and walking in close proximity, with all key community aspects living within a 5 minute walk of the center.
CNU’s latest annual conference, the premier national event on building better places, hosted an array of exceptional speakers, leading industry professionals, and workshop leaders. Leading topics included the importance of town centers and increasing the number of convenience centers in the heart of each town, city, or main street revitalization.
Efforts to drive community traffic toward town centers and implement convenience centers and services in centralized locations improve local economies by allowing residents and visitors alike to put money back into the community. Redevelopment, urban infill, revitalization, and preservation efforts also create stronger communities, increase walking and shared transit as primary modes of transportation, and improve the way space is used throughout towns and cities.
The CNU places a high value on placemaking—the idea of using public spaces as the heart of a community, strengthening the connection between community members and the places they share, and maximizing shared value. It moves the focus of community design from car-based design to human-focused design, from a focus on getting something built to creating “sustainable, human-scaled places where people can live healthy and happy lives.” CNU maintains that these spaces work better for all—businesses, residents, and local governance.
CNU speaker Bob Gibbs touched on the changing world of retail and the different directions it’s headed. One of the major keys when it comes to retail locations, whether one is considering a new site or a redevelopment, is to assess whether the location is worth reviving based on market studies. In his book, Principles of Urban Retail Planning and Development, Gibbs explains that the viability of convenience centers is heavily determined by the size of the local population and the volume of daily traffic, among other factors. When the goal is to successfully redevelop town centers with viable futures, the towns and surrounding areas should be evaluated to see what specifics should be considered regarding layout, tenants, and accessibility.
A common placemaking trend today is the redevelopment of failing malls into mixed-use developments consisting of housing, shopping, and restaurant locations. These types of mixed-use, or “work, play, live,” developments are popping up all over, creating a customer and shopper base both from those living in the developments (who relish the convenience of shopping and night life within walking distance) and those locals who drive to the remaining large department stores and stay around to shop elsewhere or dine out. These plazas are becoming community staples in many places across the nation.
As consumer expectations shift and demand increases for communities with built-in shopping, public spaces, and housing, new urbanism offers a solution for revitalizing existing “dead spots” in many communities today. If you are considering redevelopment efforts in keeping with consumer demands, explore how EBI’s Retail Architecture and Engineering, Due Diligence, or Environmental Health and Safety teams can help make your project a success.