Andres Duany Looks to Urbanism for the Future

March 18, 2011

Photo by Jill Gable

On Wednesday, March 16, the Rollins community welcomed Andres Duany, internationally acclaimed speaker and author. Speaking about the American Dream after the Great Recession, Duany held the audience of 300 at rapt attention for two hours.

He began his talk by explaining how the convergence of three modern crises — the collapse of the real estate bubble, the specter of climate change, and the impending consequences of peak oil — have made modern suburban lifestyle untenable. But instead of positioning this as a negative state of affairs, Duany explained how this is a time for great possibilities.

“In a time of crisis, new ideas are welcome for a change,” he said. For example, until recently, securing funding or political support for smart-growth communities has been extremely challenging if not impossible in some areas. However, “because of the complete collapse of the real estate market, they are now open to it.”

The challenge many face is that they concentrate on the present instead of the future when evaluating the worthiness of an idea or plan. “When somebody says ‘you can't do this,’ I say ‘you can't do this NOW.’” “It's about the future,” he said, adding “any urbanist who is not thinking ahead 30 years is not an urbanist.”

Great places evolve over time. Therefore, new communities will do best if they are developed incrementally — beginning with single-story buildings that can be expanded over time into multistory mixed-use buildings. Calling this “successional urbanism,” Duany noted that “there's no point in density without urbanism —urbanism has to come first” or else there is no real community, no real authenticity to a place.

Duany recommended looking at the past for inspiration, noting that great cities, railroads and communities, “the best places,” were built in the mid-19th century “without cheap loans.” He also explained why the environmental movement has failed to effect change in Americans’ attitudes and behaviors relative to consumption and advocated new ways to build the case for sustainability. Earlier in the day he spoke to a full Galloway Room about the concept of agrarian urbanism and why it is important to incorporate agriculture into contemporary life.

Duany is a founding principal of Duany, Plater-Zyberk & Company, a leader of New Urbanism, and a founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism. He is the latest in a series of visionary, provocative speakers who have been brought to campus as part of Rollins’ new Master of Planning in Civic Urbanism program. The program was created to provide students with the skills needed to help communities around the country make life better for their citizens through well-designed public spaces, energy-efficient infrastructures, and convenient public transportation. Duany was consulted during the planning stages of the program and continues to hold it in high regard, saying it is the type of program few colleges offer, but more will be impelled to as the realities of the 21st century unfolds.

Contributed by Cheryl Mall, marketing director for Crummer School of Business and graduate student in Planning in Civic Urbanism

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