On June 4, when the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) begins its annual meeting in Buffalo, a new president, Lynn Richards, will greet its members. Richards spent 14 years working for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington before moving to the Chicago-based nonprofit. (She officially takes over from former Milwaukee mayor John O. Norquist on July 1.)
Richards, 47, arrives at the CNU on the heels of a withering critique by author Witold Rybczynski, who wrote on his blog that “while new urbanists have attempted to shed their small town/suburban/Truman Show image, they have had no similarly successful and exemplary big-city project. No High Line. No Disney Hall. No Fifteen Central Park West.” He concluded with a list of urban trends—from charter schools to community gardens—that he believes New Urbanism missed. Richards will have to try to correct that perception, along with the perception that the movement is about retro architectural styling—the product, in part, of its association with Seaside designers Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk. (Duany, Plater-Zyberk and four others founded the CNU in 1993.) Still, this should be a very good time to lead the 3,000-member organization, with polls—and real estate prices—showing a substantial number of Americans rejecting the suburban "ideal" in favor of urban, transit-oriented communities. Though she expects to spend her first months at the CNU "just listening," Richards spoke with Record about her new responsibilities.