After a half-century of brutal urban renewal, sidewalkless cul de sacs, and unwalkable sprawl, planners all over the world have turned towards what was left out of planning for decades: community. Whether it’s planning approaches like Complete Streets or assessment methods like walkability scores, communities have learned that people want to interact with their surroundings like people, not like hermit crabs that can’t function without the steel shell of a car.

So it’s great news that the Smart Growth Network (, a national consortium of groups working on smart growth, has decided to turn for ideas to the very people left out of the planning process in the second half of the twentieth century: the people. That is, Smart Growth Network is crowd-sourcing the crowd, with its National Conversation on the Future of Our Communities: a call for five-page papers with ideas – any ideas – for improved community design and planning.

Have an idea about sidewalk design? Send it in. Come up with a new design-forward bike rack, like they did in Raleigh? Send it in.

An actual person in the EPA’s Office of Sustainable Communities, where it was way too much trouble to go through the madness of getting Permission to Speak Frankly Sir (come on, government! This is a good idea; don’t complicate it by scaring your people away from the very conversations this call for papers is meant to inspire!) told me that the entire point of this undertaking is to “reach out to the people who HAVEN’T been part of the conversation.”

It’s a two-way street, I was told – and that’s two ways for buses, bikes, and pedestrians, not just cars, mind you. This isn’t plowing up minority neighborhoods for divisive highways or brutalist government buildings; this is “How do we, as a people, want our communities to look, to feel, to work?”

This is your chance – everybody’s chance – to get the attention of decisionmakers. They’re asking for our help. And seriously, you can get their attention. The Network hopes to invite the creators of the best ideas – most original? Best presented? Simplest? Most implementable? – to present them at the New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City in February 2013.

And note – the deadline is June 30 for those five-page papers (actual rules here), but the Network is nothing if not twenty-first century: if you’d prefer to make a video or something more psychedelic, details for how to do that will be up July 9 on the National Conversation page.

If you’re like me, you constantly find yourself wanting to walk to a restaurant that a crow could fly half a mile to but that traintracks, 8-lane roads, and lack of sidewalks or transportation options make impossible for you to reach; maybe you’ve got an idea for how your downtown can enable an aging population to cross the street safely; maybe you’ve figured out how to get people to pay taxes to improve their communities; or maybe you just want your kid to be able to walk to school or ride a bike safely. Anyhow, this is your chance. Don’t blow it.