As with nearly every other topic these days, there are strongly held viewpoints in planning circles over development. It seems like either you must be pro-development in all cases, or anti-development in all cases, with no room for middle ground. Unfortunately for the professional planners amongst us, the middle ground is where we are largely supposed to be in our attempts to foster consensus. As a result, I would say there are a fair number of long-term planners, like myself, who are growing weary from the unyielding rancor.
This is not to say that urban planning was ever mellow, easygoing, and carefree. But, the big difference between now and three decades ago is the complete unwillingness of many stakeholders to listen, respect one another, consider other opinions, or compromise. Sound familiar? All one has to do is turn on the television or surf the net to see/read these entrenched partisans in practice every day and all sorts of issues.
A key problem with this becoming endemic to urban planning is it can have multi-generational consequences. Most master plans are in effect for two decades or more and most development projects are built with anticipated five to ten decade lifespans. Decisions made today likely won’t be reversed or undone for a considerable length of time.
Secondarily, the acrimony generated from what is deemed to be an unpopular decision can quickly whiplash planning efforts into the opposite direction with the next election. That wild pendulum swing between pro-development and anti-development hardly makes for consistent application of laws, rules, standards, or regulations…a particularly important quality when facing potential litigation. It also makes for haphazard development pressures that range from mild to intense depending on who is in office and the then-current political hierarchy.
Given the fluctuating nature of the development pressure of such pendulum swings, another issue becomes the lack of a coordinated development pattern on the ground. This in turns leads to issues related to congestion, incompatible land uses, gentrification, or sprawl.
This leaves us with the question – what to do? Here are a few ideas:
- Require one year of civics classes in high school and college regardless of degree.
- Rely on your master plan as your guide through all ups and downs.
- Be inclusive, inclusive, inclusive! Never let certain groups control the agenda through political, monetary, length of residency, or other forms of pressure.
- Enforce speaker time limits and rules of order.
- Require respectful discussion among all parties at public meetings, including and especially among elected or appointed officials.
- Demonstrate the four styles of listening (appreciative, critical, relationship, and discriminative) – hopefully, by doing so, it will spread to others.
- Always…always be open to new ideas. Change is often the scariest notion for the public to accept and its perception often overwhelms reality.