by Michael R. Allen
One of last year’s highlights for me was participating in the Next American Vanguard conference organized by Next American City magazine. The event was not a typical conference — participants applied and were selected by the magazine, with only 32 selections. While the two-day event in May had an agenda, it was more like a high-charged advanced seminar in urban revitalization than a session-by-session conference.Â I was honored to follow our own Jeff and Randy Vines, 2009 alums, as the next St. Louisan to participate.
Here is a description from Next American City:
Each year Next American City chooses more than 30 outstanding young leaders from around the country to join together for a two-day conference. Called Next American Vanguard, the group and the conference are dedicated to understanding American cities and strategizing ways of improving them. The class of 2010 represents fields ranging from arts to transportation to climate change and historic preservation.
What this summary cannot include is the off-the-wall levels of passion, knowledge and sharing that participants brought. All of us participants no doubt spend much time at events with practitioners in our fields, but rarely do we have access to a range of peers from diverse fields working in urban policy from an equally diverse range of cities.
Group conversations on those two days combined insights from people working in public design with those of educational reform advocates, and those from Chicago and Detroit with those from Fargo and Portland, Maine. (Aside: You’d be surprised at how many participants already had a St. Louis connection!) This perspective-building will make us all better at what we do in the loci of both practice and place. We should strive to keep this connection to the ideas and practices of other cities going, because we don’t necessarily get that on a regular basis in smaller cities.
I had just enough time to start getting to know my amazing fellow participants, but since meeting everyone I have continued conversations by phone, email and in person. While we may never all meet up again like we did in May, we have intertwined 32 networks of ideas, people and places — and the world is a better place for that. In just a few months in Detroit, the 2011 Next American Vanguard “class” will do the same. The circle of committed young people working for renewing America’s cities is widening right now, and it is exciting to be a part of it!
The current Next American City is now available online and includes profiles of six of the 2010 class members, including myself. Check it out: “Better Cities? Theyâ€™re On It”. I encourage young St. Louisans to put in for the 2011 conference to represent our city and to feel the joy and inspiration of being connected to the larger national movement for smart urban policy.