GOing Conference Review
This past week, more than a dozen of the America's best and brightest planners and visionaries gathered in the Chautauqua Hall above Boulder, Colorado. With the majestic backdrop of the famous Flat Irons -- a trio of mountain slopes above the Front Range community -- they shared their insights on the challenges of building a sustainable society, with the focus on mobility.
Dan Sturges, the designer of the original GEM neighborhood electric vehicle and recently hired by WestStart/CALSTART organized the one day event, taking advantage of what WestStart CEO John Bossel calls one of the thickest Rolodex around. My wife and I were able to attend the event. The fact that she sat through the entire proceedings, which ran from 10 AM to well after 10 PM, is -- in my book, at least -- testimony to the caliber of the speakers and the topics they covered.
To give you a sense of who was there and what was discussed, the first presenter was Henry G. Beer of Comm Arts in Boulder, the developers of the original Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder. He talked about the psychological barriers to change. Following Beer was CNET's editor-at-large, Esther Dyson, who is regarded as one of the pioneers of the Internet and sees it as a stimulus to travel rather than a surrogate, a tool for making travel more efficient.
Susan Shaheen and Dan Sperling represented UC Davis. Tim Blumenthal talked about the history and role of bicycles, while Carolyn Young with Portland Tri-Met discussed the success of that pacesetting transit system. WestStart/CALSTART's Fred Silver presented the latest developments in Bus Rapid Transit.
Dean Kamen flew in with five Segways and an entourage that included Doug Field, his VP for design and engineering -- who told me he is a regular reader of EV World -- along with Klee Kleber the VP of Marketing and Matt Dailida, Segway's Director of Government Affairs, and the key person responsible for getting 44 states to legalize the use of Segways on public streets and sidewalks.
|Doug spoke about the technology inside the Segway and I learned separately that Lithium Ion batteries are on the way.||
I was able to spend 10-15 minutes, one-on-one -- with Dean Kamen, but we talked little about Segway. Instead we talked about fresh water and DEKA's new water purification technology. Dean promised to talk to me more about it in the future in an exclusive interview for EV World subscribers.
For my money, Rick Steele's "sales pitch" for his NuRide initiative highlighted one of the most innovative and potentially revolutionary approaches to ride-sharing I've heard in quite some time. The kernel of his idea is to pay people to ride together, up to $1000 a year. He's convincing major corporations to shift some of their advertising budgets from "interruption marketing" like TV, radio, magazines, etc., to funding his NuRide program in the form of reward certificates. His web site is NuRide.com.
Jeff Morales, the former head of CALTRAN and now a VP with the consulting firm of Parsons Brinckerhoff brought everyone up-to-date on "Red" Ken Livingston's efforts to reduce traffic congestion in Central London by the imposition of a £:5 fee. Despite universal grumbling, the plan is working and congestion is been reduced by a third. In turn, I told Jeff about the recent UK government report that may someday extend the concept of fee-based travel zones to the entire island.
John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee, and the current president of the Congress for New Urbanism, gave a very entertaining and illuminating speech on the history of 20th century urban development. According to the towering Norquist, we can blame a lot of our traffic problems on Le Corbusierand his acolytes in the early half of the century.
Susan Szenasy, the long-time editor-in-chief of METROLOPIS Magazine in New York, concluded the conference by talking about the need to rebuild a sense of community socially, as well as architecturally. I had a chance to speak with her at length over a couple of bottles of beer, as we discussed the current political situation. A clearly partisan comment she'd made during her talk so incensed one attendee -- who shall go nameless because I consider him a friend and colleague -- that he noisily stormed out of the hall in protest. She confided to me later that every time METROLOPIS runs a politically slanted article, a handful of people cancel their subscriptions; a phenomenon not limited to her magazine, I assured her. Her biggest frustration with giving her talk, she told several of us, was her sense that we all just appear to be "nibbling" around the edges of the problem with our own little "solution." We need leadership with BIG vision to seriously tackle the problems that loom all around us. The question is, does either presidential candidate offer the necessary leadership and the consensus would appear -- for now -- to be no, though she still supports John Kerry over George Bush.
As if to underscore the themes of the conference, my wife and I drove to and from the conference in one Graham Hill's GEM neighborhood vehicles, winding through a maze of streets to reach the Chautauqau Center several miles to the south of Graham's homes in north Boulder. It was fun -- if a bit unnerving at first -- rambling along at 20-25 mph, mixing with the normal stream of cars, pickups and SUVs. You felt much more a part of the community, in part, because you're so open and vulnerable.
The next day, Graham, his youngest daughter, my wife and I drove down to the local Boulder Farmer's Market, where almost all of the produce grown -- with the exception of the peaches and some of the grapes -- comes from within a 30-mile radius of Boulder. Better yet, nearly all of it is certified as "organic" by the State of Colorado. I have found that farmers' markets like the ones we've visited in California, here in Omaha and now in Colorado are one of the clearest examples of "community" that I can think off.
On our way home to Omaha, we stopped off in nearby Longmont to visit a relatively new development called "Prospect" where the concepts of "neighborhood" are being reborn in a planned community that mixes 1920's Craftsman style architecture with 1960's modernism. Unlike modern tract homes, garages have been moved to the rear where lots are separated not by fences but by old-fashioned alleyways. As a result, many of the homes now sport conversation-inviting porches and sidewalks. To enter Prospect, which is home to about 500 families at the moment and will eventually grow to about 1,000, is to step back in time, where businesses like restaurants and coffee shops and dry cleaners are being encouraged to locate within the development instead of distant strip malls. All the way back from Colorado, my wife and I talked about what types of businesses might work in this setting, including one she could run.
I think it was Dan Sturges who commented at the end of the conference that all of the answers -- be they technological or architectural -- for developing a sustainable culture are all around us; we just need to figure out how to pull it all together. That was the goal of the GOing. I hope that WestStart and company let's Dan continue to spearhead future conferences and that they'll continue to let EV World eavesdrop on your behalf. With the exception Henry Beer's opening presentation, we digitally recorded the entire conference to MP3 format. We'll be making every speaker's talk available to our premium content subscribers over the next many weeks. Trust me, they're well worth listening to.
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