Denver - Valley Forge for the New Urbanism

tunnels through three rock mountains, all in a line, near Buena Vista, Colorado

   I firmly believe that Denver will be remembered as the Valley Forge of the New Urbanism... The darkest hour. Our numbers sharply depleted. The few who are there characterized as “the crazy ones.”

   The entire construction industry is in shambles, as we all know. Conventional construction began to suffer right after the sub-prime crisis in 2007, but in every place I worked, New Urbanist developments were still clicking along after everything else in those particular markets had shut down. But when the Meltdown occurred last fall and you could no longer get financing, then that shut everything down, including the New Urbanism, because if you can’t borrow, you can’t build. Today, even the New Urbanist architects and planners are laying off employees down to the bare bones. In other words, these are really dark times.

   There’s no question that there will be far fewer attendees at the Congress this year. And few of the private-sector New Urbanists who are going can actually afford to go... they’re going based on hope rather than good business sense. I’ll be one of the attendees who fit in that category. But here’s why the hope might be fulfilled beyond any of today’s reasonable expectations:

   The New Urbanism has been working for three decades to build a set of ideas perfectly suited to lead us out of this mess, as I detailed in New Urbanism and the Meltdown. And the conventional development system that has stood in the way of the New Urbanism from the beginning is largely being swept away as we watch. So this darkest hour is precisely the thing that had to happen in order to pave the way for the coming victory... the triumph of far better and more sustainable ways of building our future.

   So if you want to join the crazy ones in Denver, then do this: come prepared. For what? I’m not entirely sure, because I don’t believe this will be like any Congress that has ever been held until now. The urgency and darkness of the situation won’t permit it. Rather than a proper gathering of polite professionals, this one is more likely to devolve into a veritable swap-fest of ideas and techniques... something more akin (at least in the corridors by day and in the pubs by night) to a black-market wisdom exchange.

   Come prepared by bringing your best new stuff, and bring it in forms that are easy to distribute to anyone who’s interested. Even if you haven’t completely worked everything out, bring your best... and someone else just might close the loop for you over dinner late one night.

   One more thing... a funny thing often happens at the darkest hour. Those who have banded together to face it often develop a dynamic between them that can’t be achieved any other way. Twenty or thirty years later, all you’ll need to say are “Denver. 2009. I was there.” No other words will be necessary.

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 10:22 AM


Agreed! You sound like a trend setter in the greenest of ways. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 - 04:45 PM

John Norquist


Thanks for encouraging people to join the rendezvous at CNU Denver. Seeing friends and fellow new urbanists can boost spirits and recharge the intellect at a time when the real estate market is bottoming out but seems about to revive in a much more urbanist form. The program is rich in content and registration is picking up. We won't break records this year, but we're surging towards attendance almost in line with recent years. I think CNU 17 will be more like Yorktown than Valley Forge, but either way,Steve, you'll be in on the revolution.

Thursday, May 28, 2009 - 11:32 AM

Steve Mouzon

John,that's really great news on the attendance numbers! I still completely believe that there will be a wider bandwidth of idea exchange than we've ever seen before, and that a dynamic will result that is unique. I've posted this to my facebook page, too, so they'll come and read what you have to say here.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - 03:21 AM


My parents were part of the golden age of planning when it seemed government would implement comprehensive solutions. Real-estate developers later ignored them or sneered at them. 

But ironically those developers implemented urbanist ideas in their condos and developments, advertised as the benefits of city living. Seems buyers inherently like to picture themselves strolling to the local market, meeting the elderly neighbor who coos over the children, who play with the neighbor kids.

Creating liveable communities is not just about building things. Often recessions are when governments and businessmen are willing to try something new. Although people don't know what's missing, they also know it when they see it - and they want it. The ability to transform someplace into a desirable place to be will always be needed, although you may have to articulate their desire.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 04:01 PM

Steve Mouzon

Izzy, I believe you're right about cities being more willing to try something different in tough times. During boom years, nobody has time to think. Times like these, however, are a great opportunity for reflection and reappraisal.


© Stephen A. Mouzon 2018