Tuesday, April 27, 2010


I do not like this man:



D. Kay said...

Why? Because he doesn't like the public process? Who does? I worked as a land use planner for 2 years, and to tell you the truth, I didn't like the public participation process - constantly being yelled at during public meetings, no thanks.

With that said, I acknowledge that his jury selection idea is a little goofy, but if planners have no decision making power and if land use decisions are completely political, then I also don't see the point of doing planning.

Ryan said...

I find it hard to imagine people yelling at you, Dave, and think it contributed to your patient mien, or at least tested it.

The way public participation often happens is not helpful and can make decisions into political theater. Planning commissions are supposed to think about the plan as a whole, not just what the immediate neighbors feel about it.

However, sticking to the plan as a whole presumes that the plan really took into account the wishes of the larger community and not the same vocal contingents with the capacity to make their voices heard in the comprehensive planning process. I'd venture to say that this usually doesn't happen. Even when the people running the show make efforts to capture undervoiced parts of the city, there are huge barriers to success...and to me this is a big "even when".

In a recent issue of Planning magazine, the APA highlighted the Wicker Park neighborhood plan as a "best of" neighborhood plan of the year. The blurb focused on the planners' varied, innovative efforts to get public input: social networking, video recording booths throughout the neighborhood (if I remember correctly), and others. Although I admit it was only a sound bite of a piece, the author made no mention of how the planners then took all of this creativity and incorporated it into a realizable plan.

Was it just a fun exercise? I don't know enough to say. ...still great ideas, and valuable as education, but not necessarily true input without that last part. It also sounds costly. If anyone knows more about the Wicker Park plan, please comment.

Mike and I attended a session in New Orleans where a local leader who led an effort that succeeded in getting his area changed back to a neighborhood from its Duany-planned drainage park designation post-flood chewed out planners for paying lip service to public participation while making plans that re-traumatized vulnerable communities like his. The plan his neighborhood coalition devised in their off hours nightly came to a volume of pages, though. I forget the exact count; it stood out. Do you remember, Mike? Even coming to that length took compromise. What will happen to this most public of plans? We'll see.

Something else going on related to Duany also comes to bear, which is the evangelization of form-based codes. Some proponents play the "true believer" role. I tend toward skepticism in these situations, I warn you.

In my capstone project, we suggest that a targeted form-based code or an overlay district would be one way to redevelop White Street and Springfield Avenue between the downtowns. They are interesting and potentially useful. However, FBC's fit into an understanding of comments like Duany's that is not invariably flattering.

Although municipalities can choose FBC's that incorporate classic zoning board review, another FBC implementation employs by-right development with no public meeting if the proposal satisfies the FBC's statutory requirements. Satisfactory projects must be rubber stamped. Proponents argue that the by-right aspect gives developers incentive to build something the community wants that probably goes beyond the usual results of zoning. Many impressive outcomes exist.

The presupposition: the community has made its preference clearly known through a series of public charrettes prior to the code's passage, ...and that the community has a preference, ...and that the community is a community.

FBC's are an interesting idea. We need to keep our minds open to new ways given the failure of classic zoning to determine healthy, equitable, sustainable urban form. Concurrently, I feel they should also give us critical pause, even if we decide on their summary goodness in the end. I also feel this way about Duany, etc., in general.