What do pedestrians, bicyclists, and local agriculture have in common?

What do pedestrians, bicyclists, and local agriculture have in common?

Answer 1: The three most important components to a successful urban community

Answer 2: Celebrating Madison! during the Congress for New Urbanism Conference – Growing Local, held here June 1-4th.

I, along with Stephanie Ricketts and Tenny Albert, attended CNU-19 on behalf of the Willy Street Coop Sustainability Committee.

I attended a pedestrian event, a bicycling event and a local agriculture event.

This conference attracts city planners, urban planners, landscape architects, architects, municipal leaders, and citizen planners from all over the world. It shares the same audience as the American Planning Association (APA) Conference except for one key difference. CNU is very hands on. The conference hosted 7 days of field trips, open source – open topic forums, walking tours, biking tours, and garden tours.

Pedestrian Event

I participated in a walking audit of downtown Madison lead by Dan Burden, Executive Director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute out of Port Townsend, Washington. Dan has lead hundreds of walks all over North America. In addition to the learning opportunity they provide, walking audits also; a) level the playing field to all who participate, allowing municipal leaders, city department heads, and citizens all to share with an equal voice, b) meet and connect with people along the way, c) provide an interactive, hands on experience for any size group, d) learn, share ideas, and make better informed decisions. We learned that the five key attributes to any successful pedestrian friendly space are:

  1. Transparency with architecture that is designed to “watch over” and “honor the street”
  2. Imageability or “how rememorable” the experience is
  3. Complexity, the more complex in textures, colors, patterns, experiences, the better
  4. Human Scale must be designed well and celebrated
  5. Enclosure through the architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning elements, there is a sense of enclosure established

Bicycling Event

While at one of the many panel discussions themed around “community pedaling” I learned about the current ranking of bicycling enthusiasm from the current president of Bikes Belong Coalition, Tim Blumenthal. The four levels of enthusiasm around bicycling are: 1) Strong and fearless, 2) Enthused and confident, 3) Interested but concerned, and 4) No how, no way. Tim’s goal is to reach the 60% of the public who live in level 3) Interested but concerned. He would like to understand intimately there concerns and work with planning and policy to alleviate these concerns. Bike friendly neighborhoods have to come first before bike friendly cities. Bicycling planning and retrofit planning success requires 5 key components;

  1. On the grid planning – must be purposefully designed into the same infrastructure as the automobile
  2. On street parking helps slow speeds down and provides a barrier to protect the bicycle lane
  3. Sense of enclosure will also bring the speeds down, enclosure through “the architecture and cityscape attributes”.
  4. Speed management
  5. Consistency – a successful bicycling community is consistent on how they plan, design, and implement the bicycling experience all the way down to the consistent choice of bike racks.

Agriculture Event

The understanding of the direct relationship between communities and local food has arrived and is finding its way into a mainstream, at the individual citizen level of understanding. We are fortunate to live in a region that leads the nation in this applied understanding. I attended a plenary called the Many Faces of Urban Agriculture. There the panel shared the origins of Agrarian Urbanism and how it relates to other types of agriculture. The discussion sited some of the social and environmental challenges to this and how it is not a one size fits all solution for the diverse communities around the country. A community that can grow its own food is a much more sustainable community, resulting in interdependence, social equity, community engagement, and increased health and wellness. We are fortunate here in Southern Wisconsin, that we have the abundance of fertile soil, and a healthy natural raincycle. We also have created some of the most successful models of community outreach and engagement around food from Community Groundworks, to Growing Power, the emerging Badger Rock Green Charter School and the Center for Resilient Cities, our nationally recognized CSA program of organized farmers, our award winning farmers’ markets across the city and region, and our wonderful locally sourced Willy Street Coop.  I also spent time with Daron Joffe, of Farmer D Consulting. He, originally a farmer from the driftless area of Reedstown, now runs a national consulting business specializing in creating partnerships to envision, design, and realize building communities through food.

The fundamental principle as to why cities exist is to “exchange”. Exchange commerce, access, friendship, community, knowledge, and support.  A vibrant, viable, sustainable community is not one that exists to move people through as fast as possible, but created to see how long they linger. I am proud to know that Madison Wisconsin is such a city. I have “lingered” here for many years and appreciated learning last week, through the trained eyes of the new urbanists, why Madison ranks so high. I am also grateful to John Nolen our original city planner and our many City leaders. Mayor Dave, in particular, for being an active CNU participant over the years and for supporting so many of the key attributes for great sustainable community planning.

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