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Two months until the start of a most timely 57th International Making Cities Livable conference

Preparations are being readied this week for an IN-PERSON conference in a beautiful and spacious venue June 8-12, in the exemplar of walkable, livable suburban retrofit, Carmel, Indiana, as vaccinations are set to become widespread

The Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts, our spacious and beautiful venue offering social distancing in comfort, and surrounded by the walkable delights of Carmel, Indiana -- a showcase of suburban retrofit.


IMCL Executive Director Michael Mehaffy is in Carmel, Indiana this week to assist with final preparations for the 57th conference, titled “From Sprawl to Neighborhoods: Livable Cities (and Suburbs) for ALL.” There may be no better venue for this important peer-to-peer exchange. Carmel is a fascinating case study of effective tools and strategies for suburban retrofit, demonstrating the successful transformation from a typical postwar car-dependent suburb to a more livable, walkable, mixed, diverse, healthier and more resilient town. Carmel frequently tops livability rankings and was named "Best Place to Live in America" in 2012 by Money Magazine.


We will of course be assessing the many important lessons of the pandemic, and the challenges that it has revealed and also exacerbated for cities and towns. “I think now, more than ever, we need these peer-to-peer gatherings to share lessons and evidence about how we can meet our new and continuing urban challenges," Mehaffy says. "To stay on top of these challenges, it's important to learn from top researchers and practitioners, and from each other, about what works and doesn’t, and what tools and resources are available for us to share and apply.”


We are honored to be hosted by the City of Carmel, whose staff is preparing very gracious arrangements for attendees. Among other activities, the City will offer a number of tours and case study session exploring the many innovations employed in Carmel and the lessons learned. A number of attendees have commented that they are eager to exchange timely peer-to-peer lessons and examine case studies in person, after over a year of isolation and online meetings. Vaccinations are set to be opened up to all US citizens over age 16 on April 19, and other countries are also accelerating distribution.


Currently we have over 50 scheduled breakout presentations and 18 keynotes featuring speakers from 22 states, and 17 countries on 6 continents. 44 universities will also be represented, including 27 in the US and 17 international (with the final number depending on travel restrictions, of course). Many other city governments, agencies, NGOs, and businesses will also be represented. Among the institutions will be the US Public Health Service, World Urban Parks (North American Chair), American Academy of Housing and Communities, Health By Design, The Trust for Public Lands, Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods, Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Land, Centre for the Future of Places, Sustasis Foundation, Ax:son Johnson Foundation, IS Global Barcelona Institute for Public Health, Africa Centre for Public Space, UN-Habitat, Johnson Controls, Woolpert, Robert A.M. Stern and Associates, MIG Inc., David M. Schwarz and Associates, DPZ CoDesign, and many others.


Topics to be covered include health and well-being – especially in the wake of the pandemic, of course – social and climate resilience, sustainability, equity, affordability and homelessness, walkability, suburban retrofit, street retrofit, development of new public spaces, development of new mixed-use districts, and challenges for funding and implementation. The conference will explore and assess the latest tools and strategies that can help cities and towns to move forward on these challenges.


Speakers include recognized national and international leaders in walkable mixed-use development, suburban retrofit, healthy cities, equity, resilience and other urgent issues, including Christopher Leinberger of George Washington University and Places Platform LLC, and former Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; Ellen Dunham-Jones, Professor of Architecture at Georgia Tech and author of Case Studies in Retrofitting Suburbia; Patrick Condon, Professor of Urban Design at the University of British Columbia and author of Sick City: Disease, Race, Inequality and Urban Land; Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism and DPZ CoDesign; Andrew Rudd, Human Settlements Officer at UN-Habitat and co-author of City-wide Public Space Strategies: A Guide for City Leaders; Dr. Richard J. Jackson of UCLA, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and a global leader in healthy cities; Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal Barcelona; Setha Low, Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Psychology at CUNY, and author of Spatializing Culture; Phil Stafford, Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University and expert on social isolation, aging and loneliness; David Brain, Professor of Sociology at the New College Florida and expert on civic engagement; and Doug Kelbaugh, professor and Dean Emeritus at the University of Michigan, and author of The Urban Fix: Resilient Cities in the War against Climate Change, Heat Islands and Overpopulation.


We will also honor Suzanne and Henry Lennard, who founded the IMCL in 1985. Henry, a Viennese medical sociologist, and Suzanne, an English architectural scholar, established the IMCL as a premier international forum for city leaders to share best practices and advanced research for more livable cities. (Suzanne passed away in 2019, shortly after beginning the planning for the Carmel conference.) Their mission statement was very simple:


Our purpose is to improve social and physical health, enhance well-being, strengthen community resilience, and increase equity and civic participation, by sharing effective tools for reshaping the built environments of our cities, suburbs and towns.


We are of course watching the COVID-19 situation carefully, and we are encouraged by the rapid rollout of vaccines in the USA in particular. At the same time, our venue has ample space for social distancing, with 1,700 seats for just 350 attendees. We will also feature many outdoor activities and tours, and we are looking forward to beautiful June weather. Carmel and Indianapolis are easily accessible from major hubs and by train, and central Indiana offers a wealth of activities and beautiful historic towns for side trips.


The "early bird" rate is available until April 15th, and the registration link is here. (Much more information is available on the website as well.) We hope you will join us for an important and memorable event!


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