Two months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita flattened huge swathes of the Gulf Coast last summer, a flotilla of Congress for the New Urbanism members descended on Mississippi to design a way out of the devastation. During a 10-day design marathon dubbed the Mississippi Renewal Forum, CNU co-founder Andrés Duany, FAIA, and 170 of his cohorts sketched a new version of reality for 11 cities along an 80-mile stretch of coastline. Last spring they volunteered their services in Louisiana, too, conducting another grueling round of charrettes in four hard-hit regions. Suffice it to say that Duany, a founding partner and principal of Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., has been busier than usual this past year.
The sheer scale of the work was daunting, but it also represented an opportunity for New Urbanism's brightest minds to put their heads together and see what they could cook up from scratch. “Everywhere we engaged they were in need of drastic reform before Katrina,” Duany says. “This is fully funded, and it's a chance to move decisively forward to a competitive condition for the future.”
Not only did the group design houses and sidewalks, parks and promenades, but for the first time ever, a hotel ballroom full of high-end architects was persuaded to create the most affordable of housing. “People don't realize how badly affordable housing is designed in this country; as soon as you're good you climb the ladder,” Duany explains. “I think manufactured homes and the panelization industry will emerge unrecognizably from the sheer talent applied to this. That's what I'm most excited about.”
Given the pace of rebuilding after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Duany estimates that the results of the charrettes will be broadly visible in 10 to 15 years—a terrifyingly long time for displaced residents but faster than it takes to turn most cities around. “You can design all you want, but most cities have to molt,” Duany says. “Things have to be knocked down and reassembled. Here, you catch it at the rebuilding. The outcome is still years away, but it's fast for planning.”
what drew you to this path?
“Lizz [Plater-Zyberk] and I missed living in a good urban place ourselves, so we instinctively tried to make them when we could. It turned out that there were quite a few people who felt like us. Now New Urbanism is all the rage, and even the old-fashioned suburban developers who were skeptical are into it.”
what were you doing 10 years ago?
“We were doing just what we are doing now, but not as well nor as intensely. The past 10 years has seen an incredible ramping up in the quality and quantity of New Urbanism.”
what do you hope to have achieved 10 years from now?
“We would like to complete the change in the regulatory environment so that building New Urbanism is on a level playing field with conventional suburbia. It's currently more difficult because it's not envisioned by the codes and standards. When the market is able to freely decide, a substantial proportion of new developments will be New Urbanist. Some marketing gurus [put the] figure over 70 percent—and that is without factoring in the boost of environmental crisis or expensive gasoline.”