Jena Skinner, AICP
Planning Theory Vs. Reality
Often times I read, listen and watch as planners try to inspire new and innovative means to improve our systems. I find most ideas are wonderfully created, thoughtful and caring, plus- are pretty cool (LEED innovations, for instance, impress me to say the least)!
The enhanced and revised planning ideas being thrown out there are in response to our ever changing living systems that demand adaptation to cultural, generational, and environmental shifts. Understandably, innovator goals have the intention to affect our long-term investments in our many systems by way of infrastructure, architecture, and anything else we're planning on constructing- as we don't build for the short term. The hard truth of this fact (and oft-unacknowledged truth), is not all areas, towns, and regions are evolving at the same rate and understanding as the theories and best practices being created and touted by those of whom, are able to look ahead at our futures. This results in a crossroads where theory and reality collide. More specifically, it seems to come down to the fact that the doers and thinkers, and the willingness to improve what's coming are commonly, urban enthusiasts. So- what do we do then with those resistive, rural, off the beaten path towns that may be perceived as 25 years late to the party, but whose growth boundaries are now colliding with the next-gen hipsters urbanites who want their microbrews and carless lifestyles? Conflict and a lot of head scratching.
The one thing that NO conference has addressed, whether it be ULI, APA, or any other green-thinkers, is this situation. I completely understand why residents are against growth, density, taller buildings, glass photovoltaic sustainable buildings with rooftop gardens and living walls where you grow food. It's not them. Autonomous vehicles? They're still getting used to seeing rechargeable car stations, let alone considering giving up their lifeblood to rural living: driving. Aside from the environmental factors, I sometimes feel that rural lifestyles are spit on in today's choices. And so, I wonder where we are to go from here. This discord is hurting planning, because it's not being discussed to the level of need, in my opinion. I find articles identifying what determiners/problems should be looked into further, but I cannot find anything even close to possible solutions for those who don't want to grow. We need to stop talking about the problems, and try to figure out the truth in any solutions. Don't want to grow? Say it. Be honest. Don't make codes so onerous that development can't happen. Simply tell them you don't want development, and why. From there, you now have a springboard to creative solutions using design to guise and guide growth.
Examples?Perhaps investing in post-secondary education by linking the second stories of old buildings in an entire block downtown into a high-tech school instead of building box-like schools that are separated from where people spend money on lunch and a haircut. Do an architectural inventory of what cool characteristics you already have in homes, so that a style can be created demanding new homes blend with old. Recognize that parking requirements have to be maintained on main streets when folks come into town - but maybe be flexible according to what uses are adjacent to each other, because you need them (for certain uses), but not all. If the uses change, reevaluate. Switch minimum compact spaces to minimum oversized vehicle spaces so Farmer Glen can park his dually easily in a designated spot and not take up 3 compact spaces in the process.
We need to work smarter and work within the rural mindset, not try to change into an urban mindset, and gentrify and/or urbanize our precious, rural lifestyles. If you stop and think about it, that's what makes places cool. Respect goes a long way. People are clever. We just need to help governments be more proactive and honest, is'all. And that's ok.