Planning Under Attack
Forbes hates comp planning
Do you think they’re right?
Canal Street project
5 hour hearing this week
Decision yet to be made
New York launches soon
Who should sponsor ours?
Those who have some understanding of (or personal experience with) the history of urban planning in this country from the last 50 or so years know that we’ve seen the paradigm shift from one of “expert-driven” or “top-down” planning – most often personified by Robert Moses, the New York City change agent who thought nothing of ripping neighborhoods apart for the sake of transformative infrastructure projects. In response to this came Jane Jacobs, a Greenwich Village Denizen whose treatise on cities, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” became something of a bible for folks who recognized the need for a less heavy-handed approach to urban revitalization. Her writings helped articulate many of the planning principles that practitioners still preach today – eyes on the street, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods – and ushered in an era wherein the next Robert Moses could not so easily decide to bulldoze a city landscape without consulting the public.
To talk about planning as a simple question of Moses v Jacobs is a dangerous proposition. If an overarching goal of planning is to guide decision-making to produce healthy, accessible, functional, successful cities that serve the needs of their residents, then it’s obvious that neither way of thinking has led to total success. Granted, physical planning is not the sole solution to endemic problems of poverty, crime, segregation, disinvestment, and education, but it is a piece of the puzzle, and thus far, one cannot say that the Moses or Jacobs approach has produced the ideal outcome that we’d like to think we collectively share. One could, of course, debate the relative merits of top down and bottom up for a very long time, but we’re not here to do that.
We’re here to say that you should read this piece from the Place Makers website that brings up an important point so often forgotten: a 180-degree shift in the way we approach an entire field/practice/civic exercise is not the way to go. To say that “experts” got it wrong and they should move aside and let communities manage their own destinies, regardless of what data, knowledge, or powers they may or may not possess is no more likely to build the cities we want than when we entrusted all of the decision-making power to lone individuals or autonomous agencies. What we all need to succeed is something in the middle. In case you don’t have time, here’s the best part:
“Expertise is just a tool to be leveraged… And if your community wants safer streets for walking and cycling, or a new park, or some walkable businesses nearby, or aging-in-place solutions embedded in the neighborhood, it’s equally key to seek out whatever expertise you lack — those skilled in transportation or landscape design, commercial development, neighborhood planning or zoning reform — necessary to empower the effort. Not at the expense of citizens but in partnership with them. Not exclusively top-down or bottom up, but both. Such an approach is not disempowering. It’s liberating, because it allows communities to focus on their own expertise — their wants, needs and concerns — while still leveraging the tools necessary for meaningful implementation. Those who believed that top-down planning would save us were wrong. But doing an about-face exclusively in favor of bottom-up — in effect, another 180-degree course correction — is no better.It’s just deja vu all over again.”
Did everyone enjoy Philly Tech Week? Are you impressed with Philadelphia’s leadership in open data? If so, then you’ll love Cultureblocks!
This had not been on our radar screen until recently. Essentially, Cultureblocks maps our creative economy: arts organizations, grant recipients, etc. What makes it even more interesting to us planners is that it also allows you to overlay that arts information with other indicators, like demographics, or even zoning! This free tool has the potential to help all different types of organizations understand opportunities for investment and to start to understand trends in terms of where the creative economy is and where it’s going.
Check it out, and tell us what you think!
Last night, Mark Wheeler and I – oops, now you sorta know who’s typing – joined Stacey Mosley from L&I for a presentation and discussion entitled, “Digital Civic Engagement Tools: Are City Planning Officials Talking to Anyone New?”
The answer is…well, I don’t want to spoil the fun of reading our powerpoint, but I think one truthful if inadequate answer is that, frankly, it’s a little hard to tell. Information from folks who signed up for PHL2035: The Game reveal that of those that went ahead and played, 133 of them were new to any kind of planning involvement. 75 of the players went so far as to say that this was their first time involving themselves in government activities of any kind. So…there’s that. Not a huge number, but a very real quantity of people who got their introduction to planning through that activity.
Looking at our other media, a major challenge is that we don’t always have the background information necessary to determine if the people we’re reaching are long-time participants, one-time opinion-givers, newbies, or some combination thereof. The good news is that we had a fantastic discussion with a packed house of folks last night at the Corzo Center for the Creative Economy at the University of the Arts. People are encouraged at our efforts to reach more audiences, eager to suggest ways to improve and expand that reach, and realistic about the challenges inherent in engaging an entire city’s population in a process that can seem long-term, abstract, and difficult to grasp.
Please read the powerpoint (attached as a pdf above), explore the data visualization (also linked above) and share any comments and ideas you have with us.
Tis the season for street fairs, festivals, and events, events, events. We know you have a lot of organizations competing for your time with various happenings, but we’d like to give a shout-out to two planner-ly happening before the month is out:
1) April 24th, 6pm, @ UArts: Digital Civic Engagement Tools: Are Planning Officials Talking to Anyone New? It’s kind of meta for us to advertise this on one of our digital civic engagement tools, especially since we’re wondering, out-loud, in a structured, conversational way next week, whether or not we’re reaching new audiences, asking the right questions, and building new constituencies of people that want to see transparent planning happen. If you’re curious to hear our take on the new technologies we’ve used to engage the public, and/or if you have thoughts on how we’re doing, who we’re reaching, etc, then please come join us for this casual discussion/presentation. Registration in the link above. This event is part of Philly Tech Week.
2) April 30th, 6pm (doors) 6:30 (event): The Philly Bike-Share Forum. Come hear from the people making bike-share work in Boston, Denver, and DC, as well as our own Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities folks discuss Philadelphia’s future system. This is a great opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences of bike share programs that are already up and running, but also to hear the most up-to-date details on our system. We’re very excited about this new component of the city’s multi-modal infrastructure, and if you are too, this event is for you!