May 15, 2020
The Congress for the New Urbanism convenes for the first time in a virtual gathering on June 10-13. CNU.28 will undoubtedly focus on how New Urbanists are adapting to new realities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
CNU has reduced registration fees to as little as $250, still with plentiful opportunities to hear from our movement’s brightest minds, to obtain continuing education credits, and to socialize. With no hotel or travel costs, this is the most economical Congress ever.
In so many ways, New Urbanists are uniquely positioned to respond to the unprecedented changes in our street, neighborhoods, and cities across the nation. What better time to collaborate, share, and encourage one another to lead the way to “the new normal.”
Families in lockdown are retrieving old bicycles from garages and exploring their neighborhoods and local trails in record numbers. New Urbanist planners and transportation engineers are among those most ready with design solutions to meet the increased public demand for new and connected trails, cycle tracks, and other infrastructure geared to those of all ages and abilities.
The loss of front porches and balconies from our nation’s post-War architectural vernacular has exacerbated the sense of isolation for many. But not at Seaside and other New Urban neighborhoods where these revived architectural traditions are encouraging neighborly connections, even from a distance. New Urbanist architects are among those best prepared to meet new consumer and industry demand when the real estate market recovers.
Reclaiming Parking Lots and Streets
The decline of brick and mortar retail has accelerated, with tens of millions more migrating to online purchasing. Motorist traffic and parking demand has diminished, creating opportunities to transform streets and barren parking lots into outdoor dining areas. Orlando, Edgewood, and other municipalities are waiving parking requirements and allowing restaurants to expand into unneeded parking spaces, increasing restaurant capacity and the ability of small businesses to survive. New Urbanists have long stood at the forefront of efforts to right-size, relocate, and share parking lots.
The City of Winter Park allowing socially distanced tables for dining on Park Avenue, expanding restaurant capacity beyond the state’s 25% indoor limit. Photo credit: Clyde Moore.
Giving the Elderly Community
COVID-19 has battered seniors and the elderly living in nursing and assisted living homes. New Urbanism’s aging in place strategies can reformat the senior independent and assisted living paradigm into true urban neighborhoods, enabling seniors and the elderly to maintain greater independence and healthier lives for longer.
Transit-Oriented Development arose out of New Urbanism and, hence, New Urbanists are among our nation’s most articulate advocates of thoughtfully planned transit expansion. People with battered savings in a deep recession will need public transportation more than ever as the economy recovers. Health and safety protocols—frequent disinfection, riders required to wear masks, the availability of hand sanitizers, and capacity limits to enable social distancing—will figure into the new norm.
Understanding Viral Spread and Population Density
Close human proximity enables virus transmission. But Robert Steuteville has documented that disease prevalence does not necessarily follow density. Suburban Westchester County, New York has a higher infection rate than New York City. New Orleans (aided by Mardis Gras) exceeds the infection rate of larger and denser San Francisco (mitigated by an earlier lockdown).
Internationally, due to a strict lockdown, Argentina has had fewer than 320 COVID-19 deaths (as of this writing), an astonishingly small figure given the enormous scale and density of Buenos Aires.
Lesson learned: More densely populated areas require closures and crowd avoidance as early in a disease cycle as possible. Due to the exponential spread of infectious diseases, a small reduction in disease transmission early in the cycle translates into massive disease reduction over time.
In the long run, COVID-19 will not likely empty out our denser cities and towns anymore than the trauma of
9-11 ended airline travel or skyscraper construction. When this national emergency ends, the amenities, economic opportunities, and beauty of urban cities and neighborhoods will again attract people. Cities, towns, and urbanizing suburbs can adapt safely, and New Urbanists, who are taking COVID-19 as a serious public health threat, are well positioned to credibly help lead the way.
Rick Geller, CNU Florida Chair