Talking Headways Podcast: Critiquing the Language of Planners

This week, Robin Rather of Collective Strength joins the podcast to talk about missteps in the planning profession — including how things go wrong with language. Robin shares how she got to thinking about urban issues and why she believes current planning practice is stuck in the 1990s. We discuss the often jargon-filled language the profession uses, taking a paragraph from Austin’s current zoning code rewrite to illustrate.

  • Casimira Younger

    Robin brings up an interesting point that I wish she expanded on — the fact that density doesn’t always solve the problem affordability in cities. This doesn’t have economic sense to me and I wish she would have elaborated. If adding housing doesn’t solve affordability crisis, what DOES? Any literature I can read up on this?

  • Cole Hendrigan

    Vancouver adds density weekly in the form of another Condo completed. It has zero effect on affordability. If it did, developers would likely slow down their projects as they wouldn’t be getting their returns. Best bet is for older condos to become ‘apartments’ to become rentals in which those who can’t afford a downpayment/mortgage might eke out a life. Then density might = affordability but this often also = rundown poorly maintained units managed by ‘rent-seeking’ landlords. So, this is the issue of how density doesn’t always solve affordability. You are correct to ask what does then: more supply. Nothing in Shortage, with a Demand, has even been Equitably distributed.

    In North America/Australia more housing supply usually is code for single family houses out into the hinterland. Yet, in Vancouver there are very successful Co-Op Housing schemes in which one’s rent is indexed to your income “A co-op is a home, not an investment”(http://www.chf.bc.ca/). In Europe housing is often controlled by Cities, as in they own the buildings and people are on long term leases. This helps smooth peaks and valleys of residents by income, but imperfectly. Singapore, another model, offers inexpensive spaces to people to buy in a new building (or set of buildings) clustered around a train station through HDB. https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21724856-subsidies-are-irresistiblebut-come-social-controls-why-80-singaporeans-live

    Otherwise, what she says about ‘net share of density’, Transects and Form Based Codes (~20:00) is spot on. Some of what she speaks of, though, is the difference between ‘social planning’ and physical planning (urban design). They should be the same, but are a different set of skills. One cannot do/be everything. The weight of the responsibility would be crushing.

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