The planning profession could use some anarchy!

Just before the climatic car race scene in the movie Grease, John Travolta’s opponent turns to him and says the following:


Well, in the urban planning field, one can definitely NOT say “there ain’t no rules.” And that’s a problem. For we planners get so caught up in rules, procedures, laws, and such, that we forget that rules can hinder/squash new ideas, spontaneity, and innovation.

Should the master planning, site plan, and zoning processes be a free-for-all? No, but at the same time it should not be so regimented and staid that full participation and discourse are squelched. For many people not familiar with the workings of government and planning, the thought of speaking up at public discussion on the future of their community can be quite frightening. It’s that intimidation factor that limits a true discourse on important planning issues. By formulating meetings into structured events (even charettes) can silence and/or scare off the uninitiated.

To truly have inclusivity one must first remove the barriers to participation…and a structured format is a significant barrier, whether it is a physical wall or perceived one.

So, how does one “create a little anarchy” in the planning process? My suggestion would be to take some cues from the ten principles of the Burning Man Project. Several of these principles already fit nicely into the community planning process – communal effort, civic responsibility, and participation. Beyond those, planning professionals should incorporate:

Radical inclusion – proactively seek out and involve those who rarely are included in the planning process, including but not limited to the homeless, seniors, youth, students, poor, women, minorities, and the disenfranchised by going directly to homeless shelters and camps, women’s shelters, retirement and assisted living facilities, schools (at all grade levels), halfway houses, low-income housing projects, area community centers, food banks, art studios, apartment dwellers, trade schools, union halls, VFW halls, religious institutions, and even jails to name a few. The days of holding forums at a couple of locations and mailing out a random-sample survey ARE OVER!

Radical inclusion also means expanding access to meetings and hearings by allowing phone and email questions, as well as live video feeds, and not just during a pandemic. Furthermore, take the meetings to the public – the formal setting of a city/town hall can be quite intimidating.

Decommodification – while planning and zoning cannot and should not allow monetary reasons to influence decisions, far-too-often community powerbrokers, such as developers, the chamber of commerce, the wealthy, government officials, the highly-educated, real estate interests, and similar stakeholders have controlled the narrative on planning and zoning topics. While there is a place and time for their input, it cannot allowed outweigh or supersede the feedback of others. This is tough, as these forces are powerful and tend to be more familiar with the process.

Radical self-expression – FORGET THE CHARETTE! FORGET THE S-W-O-T ANALYSIS! These formats hinder true and open discussion by pre-structuring the conversion toward a certain goals – two of which are time and budget. Instead, allow a continuous free-flow of topics related to the community from those attending without placing expectations or limits on them, other than to assure they are civil and respectful of others. This route may take more time and effort, but it will likely produce a better, more inclusive product.

Radical self-reliance – this may take some time, but should become more evident when those who are hesitant begin to feel comfortable participating in the process.

Gifting – one may wonder how in the world can a planner/planning department gift things to others. Well, by opening up the the entire process to be more inclusive and less rigid is a gift to those often left out of the equation when comes to the community’s future.

“The gift of giving a voice to the unheard is a powerful present to bestow upon anyone.”



Want to hear more? Here’s a link to The Planning Commission Podcast on this topic.

This entry was posted in Advocacy, cities, civics, Civil Rights, civility, Communications, culture, demographics, digital communications, diversity, education, government, history, homelessness, Housing, human rights, humanity, inclusiveness, Labor, land use, movies, Native Americans, opinion, peace, pictures, planning, poverty, Religion, social equity, Social media, spatial design, sustainability, urban design, urban planning, video, Welcome, Women, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The planning profession could use some anarchy!

  1. Chris Danley says:

    I run an up and coming planning based podcast called, The Planning Commission. We are trying to explore these types of topics in a tongue and cheek kind of way. I fully agree that planning as a professional needs to modernize and reflect on what we do and how we do it. Id love someone from Panethos to be on to talk about these issues. If interested, let’s chat?

    Liked by 1 person

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