A ‘Lean’ replacement for ‘Big Civic’

Photo credit: Knight Foundation on Flickr.

“Big Civic” is disappearing. The days when CEO roundtables, mayors for life or a few big foundations were the primary makers in our cities have passed. Now, getting more people into city-building is fundamental to making communities that work for the 21st century. Making cities today is all about robust engagement of a lot of people, not just a few.

That’s why we were immediately enthusiastic when celebrated architect Andres Duany approached Knight Foundation with his plans for “Lean Urbanism.” It is all about making small possible in our communities.


A lean means of reinventing our communities” by Andrés Duany on

Like so many of us, Duany believes that too often, getting anything done today requires getting through an unnecessary maze of red tape and rules. In his case, Duany especially worries that bloated regulation on building and development is burdening a younger generation of urbanists and immigrants with so much expense that it makes small, incremental growth impossible.

When someone arrives in your office claiming he’s going to start a movement, you have to be at least a little skeptical. But in Duany’s case, he had done it before as a co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism. His aim now, with a three-year grant from Knight, is to make the future of that movement flexible and affordable in the face of the “new normal” that demands it.

Knight is a national foundation with deep local roots in 26 communities where our founders once operated newspapers. We hope the initiatives and policy recommendations that emerge from Lean Urbanism will make it easier and, as a result, more likely for residents, business owners, developers and others to step up and help shape those communities.

The project will also provide an ongoing forum for debate. Under Duany’s leadership, we expect to see a rigorous conversation around Lean Urbanism, in print, online and through local and national meetings.

In the modern economy, we need to be deliberate about how we develop communities; we can’t leave it to chance, hoping that we’ll stumble upon the right formula. We know that people value living in vibrant places. We know that communities do better when people from different backgrounds and income groups interact. We know that finding ways to attract and harness talent, and create opportunity, makes great places. Lean Urbanism is one of the tools to get us there.

As part of the Knight grant, Duany and a team of collaborators plan to “expose the red tape that paralyzes development” and business startups and demonstrate ways to simplify the challenges facing people trying to remake their communities. It is mission critical for a foundation such as Knight, which believes informed and engaged communities are fundamental to a strong democracy.

Carol Coletta, vice president for community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation

Carol Coletta and Andrés Duany will host a live webinar, “Lean Urbanism: Building Successful Cities,” on Tuesday, March 4, from noon to 1 p.m. ET. Register here and follow #LeanUrbanism on Twitter for more information.

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