As I mentioned before, I spent Friday February 4th, 2011 at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Charlotte, just an hour and a half from my home in Greensboro. Many of you readers were either there in the flesh or there in spirit, so you were able to see and hear some of the conversations that went on yesterday. I hope to spotlight some of the presenters and other conference goers that I met, so I will leave the recaps to others. However, I am going to touch on a few highlights that made this conference a highlight of my year so far:
First of all, I commend the Local Government Commission for choosing Charlotte. If anyone is an example of how suburban communities are taking back their urban cores, Charlotte is one. When I arrived and parked and started walking and using transit, I thought I was in another state. Uptown(Charlotte wants it’s citizenry to think of a positive ideal when going to their downtown), was quite dense and full of a good mix of chain stores and cool local spots. You also have two successful sports stadiums, fun museums, and the nucelus of financial power in the state, if not the Southeast and most of the nation. The Westin Charlotte, where most of the conference sessions were held, is a visually spectacular building. I’ve driven past it a number of times and wondered quite possibly how people could people fit in the building. It’s so skinny. Yet, is not a key principle of smart growth, namely New Urbanism, if it can be smaller, make it smaller? The exterior was tastefully contemporary, a perfect backdrop to a conference celebrating progressive design and policy in land use. The icing on the cake was finding out that the hotel was Lynx accessible. It was rainy this weekend and being able to hop on a warm light rail train was just in time. Sadly, we do not have this system directly to Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, but hopefully dignitaries with means will see how much of an asset this is and will make the necessary financial and regulatory decisions to make that happen.
The agenda featured over 100 sessions on a variety of topics, including many on environmental justice and diversity in the sector. Although I was only able to attend the Getting It Right:Training the Next Generation of Sustainability Leaders and Practitioners and Environmental Justice and Community Engagement: Can Inclusive Engagement Lead to Just and Smart Growth? sessions, I learned so much and had many of my beliefs affirmed about equity and diversity in the realm of smart growth and sustainable communities.
I think the Westin did a great job of having refreshments arranged such that people could get a coffee (or tea, thank you Starbucks and Tazo!) and chat about issues they saw. This is how I met Brian Faulk, who is the publications director for the Center for Applied Transect Studies. We had a nice conversation about my recent post on Grist, the true viability of urban agriculture and why we need not forget equity in our building patterns. I had no idea at the time exactly who he worked for, but after reading the website and putting two and two together, it was pretty cool to be able to have a random conversation with someone so close to the founder of New Urbanism. In addition, I was able to finally meet Elisa Ortiz, who is the Outreach Manager for Smart Growth America and her colleague, Shelley Hazle, who is the Smart Growth Leadership Institute’s State Coordinator. Shelley spoke in the first session I attended above and Elisa and I are both a part of the YNPN family, as well as a co-Nonprofit Rockstar. I also enjoyed meeting several fellow grad students, other panelists and a few of the sponsors.
Those three things made my short day at the New Partners Conference so worth it. If you were there, what did you think? If this was your first time in Charlotte, did you like it? Would you come back again?