Never in recent memory have we been faced with the multiplicity of challenges as we are right now. In the midst of the catastrophes of climate change and often surreal politics we now have a pandemic that has us totally off balance and wondering how life as we know it, for better or worse, is going to be. Pundits are having an editorial field day. Little did we know when CSU Board members Ted Liebman, Gernot Reither, and I returned mid-February, from the World Urban Forum 10 (WUF10) in Abu Dhabi that the global meeting of 15,000 like-minded UN Habitat colleagues would be our last large in-person gathering for the foreseeable future. The CSU organized two very successful programs at WUF 10 and were invited panelists in 5 more events, this being CUS’s most robust participation to date. I am now writing from ‘house arrest’ in Woodstock, New York. I spent the month of March in my home studio in Manhattan in quarantine with a close family friend who tested positive before my generous stepson Max taxied me north. We had a great drive while wearing gloves and masks. Not taking any chances!
The CSU was faced with some very difficult choices in early March. We had worked for months arranging a series of back-to-back programs starting with our 2nd annual Gala and Claire Weisz’s inaugural Talal Abu-Ghazaleh lecture at the UN, followed by our early April main event, also at UN headquarters in New York. With the outbreak of COVID-19 the CSU Board took early action and postponed our events.
The CSU Executive Committee and full board have been having Zoom meetings since early March and have now rescheduled all of our March and April events for early October 2020.
Our first major event will now take place on World Habitat Day, October 5, at the United Nations. This will be an all day event built around the theme of 2.5 billion, the number of people to be added to cities by 2050. Keynote speakers and panelists will address the increase as it relates to migration, climate change, and of course public health. With the understanding that early October will not see us out of the pandemic, an alternate media scenario will be developed should it be appropriate to hold the conference online.
The inaugural CSU Talal Abu-Ghazaleh lecture by Claire Weisz, “MILLENIAL THINKING: Reflections on our Designed Future”, will now be held on October 7th. It may be both an in person event at the UN and an online event for those still unable to travel.
As I write, ambiguity and paradox prevail. In the United States and Japan people are foolishly gathering on streets, in parks, on beaches, and in one case partying in a barber shop. In the heartland people are protesting against sheltering in place and carrying guns at protests. Some US governors are slowly opening their States’ economy while others are not yet prepared to do so. Essential workers are being heroic, often without the Personal Protection Equipment needed. The poor and disadvantages are dying, data tells us, in disproportionate numbers. The privileged have fled to their second homes.
As if climate change had not been enough of a challenge, the pandemic has added a whole new set of issues to the mix. (No, knee-jerk de-densification, decentralization, and suburbanization are not the answer ! ) How will we design and occupy public space going forward? How will we revisit globalization and supply chain processes in the future? How will our architecture be made more sustainable and resilient in light not only of climate change but public health?
Along with our partners at the United Nations, the AIANY Chapter, and others the CSU will continue to initiate and organize conferences, programs, webinars and other events always in pursuit of our mission and leaving no one behind.
Being totally optimistic (and hopefully not unrealistic!), the CSU has reserved the Century Association venue for the 2nd annual Gala to be held on October 6th. We are prepared for an alternative format should it be necessary. We are extremely grateful to all who made donations to the Gala and look forward to greeting and hosting all of you in the near future. Until then, stay healthy, stay safe, stay well, and stay in!
Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, DPACSA
President, Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization
P.S. Thank heaven for Zoom, WebEx, RingCentral and all the other audio-visual media platforms that have allowed us to haveclose social distance while maintaining healthy physical distance. My colleagues, family, and friends have had small and large gatherings, dinners, and birthdays. We are profoundly thankful for these opportunities.
P.P.S. The UN-Habitat NY | April Newsletter outlines the UN response to COVID-19. Please follow this link to learn about it. https://unhabitat.org/sites/default/files/2020/04/final_un-habitat_covid-19_response_plan.pdf