Why Planners Need to Exercise (Not Exorcise) Their Passions

Here’s what’s grabbing our attention around the Streetsblog Network today:

The Case for Subjectivity in Planning: Professional standards dictate that planners are supposed to be passionless bureaucrats who can administer city policy while putting their personal feelings aside. That, however, is a recipe for miserable planners and uninspired plans, says the “Subjective Planner” at Network blog Bikeside LA. “I have come to a realization that government planning as a career is intent on destroying whatever heart and utopian ideas you went into it with. The truth is that most planners come out of college with some amazing ideas and crazy good dreams of wonderful communities where you can walk to the market or mom can borrow a cup of sugar from next door. A place where kids still ride their bikes to school…”

Rather than remaining in offices reviewing code, planners should be out in the community, interacting with residents, says the Subjective Planner. “I go into every meeting with one thing on my mind, ‘If they know what I know and they care like I care, then we are probably going to find a lot of common ground.’ Ultimately I am there to sell a community good planning concepts and practices because most fear of change comes from not knowing or understanding the concepts that the change is based on.”

The city of Portland has established this hierarchy as part of its 2030 Bike Plan, which is in progress. Photo: ##http://bikeportland.org/2011/05/05/editorial-does-portlands-bike-plan-matter-52579?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BikePortland+%28BikePortland.org%29## Bike Portland##

Will Portland Stay Committed to Its Green Transportation Priorities? If there’s one city in the country that has its priorities straight when it comes to transportation, it’s Portland. Of course, political pressures sometimes get in the way of even the best laid plans. According to a new addition to Portland’s developing 2030 Bike Plan, pedestrians and cyclists are to be given top priority in local transportation decisions. At the other end of the spectrum, single-occupancy vehicles are supposed to receive the lowest billing. Except, often times it seems the city’s priorities run in exactly the opposite direction, says Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland.

Maus reports that a series of bike projects in the city’s Bike Plan are at risk of being eliminated. Portland bike advocates need to continue to pressure public officials to adhere to the highly-touted plan, lest they see the hierarchy reversed. “This is Portland. If it can’t happen here, the transportation future of our entire country looks very dim,” says Maus.

Small Cities Embrace “Slowness”: The slow foods movement was born near Rome, as an outgrowth of a protest to the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps. The idea was to reject the “standardization and corporatization of taste and culture.” A new movement called Cittaslow seeks to apply those principles to city planning in small cities, reports Itir Sonupariak at The City Fix. Once again, the movement has its roots in Italy, this time a small town near Tuscany. But the concept has been spreading since its start in 1999. Currently 140 cities in 20 countries have adopted Cittaslow’s principles. “California’s Sonoma Valley, Fairfax and Sebastopol have all acquired the movement’s goals into the urban planning process with goals to preserve and enhance the quality of life for all residents, highlight local assets and specialties, and preserve the environment,” writes Sonupariak. Participating cities must be less than 50,000 and must pay dues equivalent to $872. Member cities are held to certain environmental standards, as well as the goal of safe and accessible transportation for everyone. Other principles include preserving historic buildings and maintaining green space. A full list of the Cittaslow framework is available here.

  • Chris Smith

    It’s important to note that the “Green Transportation Hierarchy” in Portland’s Bicycle Master Plan has NOT yet been adopted as City policy. That needs to happen during the update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which is currently in process. I expect this to be a fairly controversial item.

    Chris Smith

    (member of the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission)

  • OctaviusIII

    Oddly enough, I’m from the Fairfax area. The Council talks big, but they don’t do much for TOD. Their bus system is a mess, and they have a number of large (and I do mean large) parking lots to infill, but it’s never on any of their plans. Hopefully this Cittaslow membership will help put them on a better path.

  • carma

    i disagree taxis should take higher priority than H.O. cars. in fact, most taxis get a measly 14-15 mpg and are single occupancy. multiple passenger cars do far better.

  • Anonymous

    Eh? Most cars are single occupancy, and taxis can certainly be (and often are) multiple passenger.

    Moreover, taxis play an important function in cities, in that they are a very useful complement to the rest of the transportation network– when you need to carry a lot of stuff, in emergencies, at night, etc.

    Giving them higher priority is useful because faster trips allow a driver to make more trips, which means that lower fares are feasible.

  • Planners often operate in environments of intense political constraints and like everybody else, they have bills to pay. They may be new urbanists or bike advocates on the inside, but on the outside they can only be as progressive as the political climate at their job site (or their client’s preferences) allow them to be.

    That’s why it’s so important for non-planners to get active in local politics to create supportive political climates.

  • Ryan Thomas Rt

    It’s a little depressing to see planners that have given up their strongest held personal beliefs to accommodate their employers. Don’t assume that you don’t have any power! I began studying planning because I wanted to be creative and solve the problems that I see caused by a culture of disrespect. When I let my true feelings be known, I’m often called an idealist. I find that to be my biggest advantage.

  • I don’t really agree with the idea of subjectivity in planning, but robustness and a focus on quality of life. I wouldn’t say that “I’ve created” it, but I promote what I call an action planning paradigm (not advocacy planning). Instead of rational planning, it’s based on the design method, which allows for prototyping and consideration of a broader set of conditions. It also is built upon social marketing, branding and identity systems, integrated program development and delivery, and a commitment to civic engagement and participatory democracy.

    In any case, when I am lucky enough to get to do plans, I tend to go far beyond the scope. Scopes for one tend to be pretty constrained, which can make planning a pretty narrow thing.

    Combine that with the fact that when you work for government, at the end of the day you have to do what you’re told and for the most part the “Growth Machine” prevails, no wonder planning can be a difficult vocation.

    Not to mention that planning exercises are set up to fail anyway, because planners have to address both citywide and neighborhood objectives, while citizen participants focus on the neighborhood objectives. Since planning processes typically fail to adequate define either set, nor provide training/guidance, the outcomes tend to be dissatisfying for most participants.

  • carma

    but that is exactly why there is another group for single occupancy vehicle!

    if the goal is which mode is more green. it is the multiple occupancy vehicle over the taxi. Seldom do most private vehicles get bad gas mileage as a crown vic. (exceptions of course. hummer). even an compact suv gets better. and yes, taxis are mostly single occupancy.

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