Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Went to Austin Again

Attended the Congress of the New Urbanism Conference in Austin April 3-6. It was a meeting of architects, planners, designers and some engineers were able to sneak in through the back door. The point of the Congress is to discuss and implement human scaled, environmentally, socially and economically sustainable land use and building design to all communities.

I attended sessions on fitting street design to new fire trucks, financing new urbanist developments, marrying the comprehensive plan to form-based codes and all of the plenary sessions. The most interesting of which was when the Congress awarded thier major "Athena" award to HRH Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. The Prince, who created the Prince's Foundation spoke via pre-recorded message to the meeting. Having never heard a formal - non-diplomatic speech from the man, I found him to be engaging, rather disarmingly funny and incredibly articulate about urban design, function and wanting to build communities that relate to the people. He personally felt that modern design, in particular the industrial nature and bauhaus style of construction separated people from their community; created a disenfranchisement of class and, designed public spaces which weren't public at all. He called for the reduction of the "uglification" of the UK and of the United States through better urban design. He didn't attend the event personally as he has made a committment to not fly from the UK unless it was for diplomatic reasons in order to reduce his personal carbon footprint.

In addition to attending sessions, I toured the Mueller Development - a mixed use, commecial and medical office complex being built on the former site of the Robert Mueller Airport - no more jets flying very low over your car on I-35. We also went to a Peter Calthorpe design - Triangle Development at the intersection of Guadalupe and Lamar Streets; and finally The Domain. The Domain was a little overdone in my opinion - it's basically an outdoor mall right now, we'll have to see if it truly will interact as a neighborhood in the future.

The biggest news of the trip was that Meredith and the boys went with me. We stayed in the Holiday Inn on Town Lake (Lady Bird Johnson Lake) and I was able to walk the mile or so from the hotel to the Austin Conference Center in the mornings by taking the town lake trail. Meredith and the guys went to the Austin Children's Museum, the Capitol Building, Zilker Park and swam in the heated hotel pool. We would meet up in the evenings and go to the Whole Foods national headquarters for dinner and sit on the veranda on the second floor and watch the sun go down.

On Saturday we met up with our Austin friends, Keith and Carrie Reeves and went with them to Bookpeople next door for a reading and book signing by Mo Willems, a children's author who wote Don't Let the Pidgeon Drive the Bus. Alexander had a great time.

On other notes. Meredith was in a car accident last Thursday. It wasn't her fault, the other guy pulled out in front of her. We're waiting to see if is insurance will total the car. Meredith thinks she wants a Honda Element.

We also had half of one of our Bradford Pear trees blow over in a thunderstorm last week. It wasn't as bad as some of my friends who were without power for several days, several trees blew over and their chimney fell over into their hottub.

I've been tapped to interview for the Community Development Director for the city I work for. My interview is next Friday. I hope it goes well.

This Friday however I have to moderate a discussion about urban gas well drilling for the Midwest Section of Texas APA. We're getting continuing education credit for far they have 67 signed up to attend. Its a little daunting.

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