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Monday, November 17, 2008

Planning for buildings, or planning for people?

This question is the premise of my senior thesis. I am asking the question of whether our current planning techniques are simply planning for the built environment and not necessarily for the people who inhabit that built environment.

This was never a problem until more recent times as places were built around people and the activities they perform. We are now building our environment to fit a financial model, corporate goal, or a well-intended comprehensive plan if we are so lucky. But even in the best example things like land use patterns seem to regulate on a non-living level. I tend to think we should be planning and regulating with the living in mind.

When we build subdivisions and neighborhoods is what we're trying to set out to accomplish building setbacks, lot sizes and building heights? Or is what we're really trying to accomplish a matter of livability and sense of place?

Casual interactions between people buying food from street vendor

It seems to be that different types of uses generate different types of activities (i.e. coffee shop vs. post office), and that different densities generate different levels of activities (i.e. downtown vs. suburban track housing). So I ask the question, should we be planning based on the premise of human interaction and activity instead of land use or form?

If a neighborhood wants to be quieter than a downtown then can't we plan for lower densities so that lower levels of activities occur? If we want a variety of interactions to occur from an intimate conversation to a casual head nod should we actually be planning for a variety of the uses that promote such interactions?

People tend to follow the see and be seen theology where they like to see others while they also desire to be seen by others when out in public

The reason I ask is because as well as the planning process is thought out, it is as equally ill-delivered. People in the suburbs want a sense of place and a sense of belonging just as much as someone who lives in a brick walk-up. We need to start planning in a way that creates such an environment for the people living in our cities and towns, and not just hoping that things adjust to the way things are going now.


The Urbanophile said...

An excellent topic. My caution would be to avoid viewing your own preferences and values and universals. Suburbanites might indeed want "a sense of place" as much you do, but they might have very different views about what that means.

Randy Simes said...

You're exactly right, and this is what I see in the beauty of this approach. If your community views their "sense of place" differently then fine. You can apply different scenarios to come up with the given lifestyle that you are seeking. Maybe it's quiet, maybe it's uptempo, or maybe it's family friendly. If those various activities that create such an environment can be determined based on their related land uses, densities, etc then we can plan for the lifestyle and overall "sense of place" while indirectly planning for land use and so on.

The Urbanophile said...

Good luck with your thesis.

Greg Meckstroth said...

I think it is an interesting topic Randy, but when do you draw the line of 'this is what the community wants' and 'I am a PROFESSIONAL planner and am certified to do this work, so I am going to do what I think is ultimately best' ?

If you let every community try to define what they want, then you may get nowhere. Plus, who is to say a place like Green Township or Delhi would put together a 'community' as defined by planners? They could continue to live in unsustainable ways and continue to desire surface lot after surface lot and degrade hillside after hillside. We should never stand up for this type of development, but because thats what the community (aka market) wants, then its ok.

This was a bit off topic, but at the same time, it was on.

Randy Simes said...

^Greg...that is the big question that looms for the whole profession. Are we simply advocates for the "common good" or "public interest," or are we experts that are meant to deliver a scientific product that is defensible?

I don't have that answer, nor will I attempt to answer it in this thesis...although it might be an interesting topic for its own thesis.

Greg Meckstroth said...

Personally, we I think we are professionals and must act accordingly. Community advocates and organizers are one thing, and planners are another. How is it handled in Europe? I think the general public will accept a lot of things if its deemed apart of the norm. Just shove it down their throats and say 'deal with it'. ha!

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