The website recently shifted from New Urban Network to Better! Cities & Towns. This month, we will change the name of our print newsletter as well, from New Urban News to Better! Cities & Towns.
That’s a big change — one that we think will help us reach a broader audience and better pursue our mission.
When we launched New Urban News in 1996, the trend toward walkable, mixed-use planning and development was in its infancy. Cities were still at a low ebb — many of them just beginning to revitalize their downtowns. Transit-oriented development was a concept yet to be implemented. The smart growth and complete streets movements were still to be invented.
The only national organization dedicated to a more human-scale built environment was the Congress for the New Urbanism, which signed its Charter at the time our first issue was published. The Charter went up against a massive real estate finance-development machine — supported by single-use zoning regulations and highway-oriented transportation departments — that was very efficient at building automobile-dependent suburbs.
Reform of the built environment was a mission — quixotic, in some people’s estimation — that was promoted by a talented, multidisciplinary group of professionals. New Urban News was launched as the mission’s trade publication.
Today much is different. The sprawl-producing industry has been badly damaged in the financial crash. Markets have changed. A new generation of young adults has emerged with a strong preference for walkable places, while previous generations are also seeing the value of mixed-use neighborhoods. At least 100 smart growth organizations have been formed in the US and Canada, promoting many of the ideas that the Charter articulated 15 years ago.
So we’ve won, right? Not at all. The last two decades were about creating workable models and techniques for reforming the built environment. The next two decades will be about implementation of these models in thousands of communities — all with differing physical, cultural, political, and financial conditions.
Such broad implementation must involve hundreds of thousands of decision-makers in communities, state and federal governments, and the real estate finance-development industry. Implementation will take place not just in cities but in towns and suburbs as well. Suburbs will become more town-like, making for better connected and more functional metropolitan regions.
Among decision-makers, a consensus has been forming that mixed-use, compact communities are needed in this new era. But that’s not nearly enough. Detailed knowledge of design and implementation is essential, so that application can be truly widespread. There is a gap waiting to be bridged at the national level, state by state, and community by community. New urbanists — the high-level multidisciplinary professional group most experienced in solving these problems — will play an important role, as will the political savvy and outreach programs of smart growth organizations.
Although the decision-makers need a more detailed understanding of how to move forward, most don’t want to subscribe to an insider publication — which is the way New Urban News/New Urban Network has always been branded. Better! Cities & Towns is a better choice now.
The new tagline is “The decision-maker’s bridge to stronger, greener communities.” That indicates the role that we intend to play. To do so requires broadening the audience — but not “dumbing down” the message. Decision-makers need intelligence to get smarter about what they do. This will require smarter coverage that gets beyond just the news of a trend.
Better! Cities & Towns consequently will be dedicated to reporting on how the models and techniques work, who the players are, how projects are financed, and what the markets require — at all levels and in widely varying conditions. That ought to be plenty to keep us busy for the next decade or two. Here’s to making cities and towns Better! in 2012 and beyond.