This opinion piece makes the argument that while density has made urban areas attractive, it also makes them “more dangerous”.
“The impact of the coronavirus pandemic may be too early to measure, but it’s clear that the great preponderance of cases, and deaths, are concentrated—at least as of now—in dense urban centers, most particularly Wuhan, Milan, Seattle, Madrid, and New York City. This crisis is the right moment for the world to reconsider the conventional wisdom that denser cities are better cities.”
New York Times, The Upshot, Emily Badger, March 24, 2020
This opposite commentary argues “The very thing that has made cities vulnerable in a pandemic has protected them in other disasters.” While acknowledging density is a factor in the spread of the virus, density provides…” diverse restaurants, rich cultural institutions, new business ideas — that we can’t enjoy right now. Even more than that, density, in the right conditions, is good for us. It even protects against other kinds of calamities.”
“How, then, do we reconcile the benefits of density for a healthy society with the threat of density in a pandemic? And what happens if we lose sight of those benefits — including the ways they are operating even now — while we are preoccupied by the harm?”
Density is but one of many components of an urban place. COVID-19 has exposed the need for a different approach for better places expressed by TheCityFix commentary: “A more holistic approach to planning that combines gray, green and blue infrastructure supports better health, better water management (flooding contributes to many epidemics and diseases after natural disasters), and climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. Furthermore, larger open spaces within the urban fabric can help cities implement emergency services and evacuation protocols.”
Upcoming posts will provide additional insights and perspectives about other approaches and opportunities resulting from COVID-19.
It’s been some time since my last post. The world has dramatically changed as the COVID pandemic spreads, with significant impacts and implications on the world and our lives. This continues daily!
While the COVID-19 has yet to peak in the US, we will move on from this and already needed discussions and perspectives about what comes next for our communities and their recovery have started.
I am then inspired and motivated to re-engage and contribute, sharing information and perspectives. This is the first of a series of posts about how the COVID has and will impact our “Places” and communities.
Here is a March 23rd post-CityLab What a Coronavirus Recovery Could Look Like. It is an interview with Michael Berkowitz, the former executive director of the nonprofit consultancy 100 Resilient Cities, and now founding principal at the Resilient Cities Catalyst. He has worked with dozens of local governments around the world to plan for hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, disease outbreaks, and other social shocks.
Berkowitz begins with “urban resilience – “the ability of a city to survive and thrive in the face of any disaster”, including the following elements:
” Good infrastructure that promotes mobility and sustainable transportation”
“Cohesive communities where neighbors check in on neighbors”
“A diverse economy with a strong middle-class jobs base
“Good governance with multiple stakeholders at a decision-making table
Many communities, not only urban, have resilience. We see this every day now across the country, building on a tradition of moving forward.
My rural/suburban community certainly has resilience after a 2005 tornado (EF3) destroyed our downtown. The town and community worked together to rebuild, not just the physical and built environment, but also the community’s spirit and engagement processes. This continues today.
To then build resilience for the future, “the trick is linking different goals together i.e. – when thinking about governance and community engagement, how do you build trust and confidence in elected officials so that in crisis situations people listen to and follow the advice of elected leaders?” This is needed now more than ever.
Berkowitz adds that a job stimulus package (not passed when interviewed and now a possible infrastructure package) offers an “incredible opportunity to build more resilient infrastructure and to engage communities as we do it.” This should not be the same old tired formula of building highways, airports or “just put things back like they were and not make them better, but about economic development, public health, biodiversity and flood control.”
“We’re going to get a whole new generation of infrastructure because of this pandemic, and we have to do it better than last generation.”
Out of this upheaval, there is a great opportunity to transform our communities, processes, systems, and economies exposed by the pandemic – the fragile public health system, transportation alternatives other than driving, our connectivity systems, diversifying our economy and repurposing industries and buildings.
He concludes by asking us to think and act holistically about how to rebuild. The real question is “Will we have the strategic gumption to make things better?
I hope we do!
Look for more related content as we move through this crisis.
A Comprehensive Plan (aka Com Plan) has been and still is the bedrock of planning for most communities. But the process and contents of a Comp Plan have and continue to evolve, reflecting mistakes of the past and the future needs of the places and communities.
“is the adopted official statement of a legislative body of a local government that sets forth goals, policies, and guidelines intended to direct the present and future physical, social, and economic development that occurs within its planning jurisdiction.
A local comprehensive plan represents a “big picture” of the community, allowing officials and citizens to explore their communities’ major opportunities and challenges and clarify their ideas on the kind of community they would like to live in. The comprehensive planning process provides residents with the opportunity to be involved in creating a vision for their communities and offering input on ways in which that vision may be achieved. The adopted comprehensive plan offers a series of goals and policies to guide the local government in administering regulations and making capital improvements and investments within the community. Strategies and action steps offer concrete opportunities for implementation”
This topic is personal and relevant for several reasons and from different perspectives.
First, my experiences as a planner (non-profit, government) participating in comp plan preparation and switching roles to the for-profit sector, reviewing them, seeking development/project approvals.
Second, the place where I live is now updating their 2009 Comp Plan.
Full disclosure – I was a staff planner and active participant in the preparation and eventual adoption of the 2009 Plan. To be candid and blunt, that Plan was not a good one but provides a framework illustrating key tips for effective plans so places can be better.
Just a pretty picture?
Comp Plans are more than just the physical layout of buildings, streets and associated land use. It is a holistic integrated process, each element dependent on the other. We planners (me included!) have tended to dwell on the pretty drawings and sketches on what places could be neglecting the interdependence of each plan element, how to achieve this vision, the impacts ( the environment, economic, social) and the uniqueness of each place (one size does not fit all!). So avoid all the focus on the pretty pictures but pay attention to the uniqueness of the place and its interrelated issues – affordable housing, infrastructure, climate change, and economic inequality.
Based on my experiences, this has been woefully inadequate. This is not denying that public engagement is hard, time-consuming and with no guarantee of success, but it is a necessary process that can make comp plans effective through active engagement by the community. During my work on the referenced 2009 Comp Plan, public engagement was limited to work sessions before the Planning Commission, where citizens could attend, but not comment and the perfunctory public hearings on the draft plan before the Planning Commission and then the Mayor/Town Council, the approval authority. During the many months of developing and then writing the plan and policies, there was virtually no public review. We wrote the “updated” plan based on demographic changes, the previous plan and in essence our opinions as planners that we knew what is best for the community.
Hardly representative and reflective of the dramatic racial and economic changes happening across the country. Looking back, our Comp Plans has not served us well. Just look at our places today and ask can we do better?
Social media and related techniques now offer greater opportunities and options for a sustained public participation process.
What happens after adoption?
Approval of the plan is not the end and written in stone. Now the real hard part begins! Will it be implemented or just sit on the shelf and gather dust? It must also change as a place changes.
Here are ways to sustain the plan.
Effective community engagement as discussed above
The plan’s policies need to be linked and synchronized to the community’s operating and capital improvement budgets. Every decision made by the elected leaders must be made, consistent with the adopted plan.
The political will to invest the time, money and patience to see the process through.
Review tied to the annual budget review process to document the status of the plan’s quantifiable goals and objectives.
New kinds of Comp Plans
But there is hope as communities seek better places through:
“Bottom-up”, not top-down planning – Do It Yourself (DIY) local solutions
Fiscal sustainability – can we pay for it over the long haul?
I am a “professional planner” by education (Master’s City/Regional Planning) and work experience. After graduate school I embarked on a varied career working in the public sector at town, county and regional levels, learning and gaining valuable on the job experiences about transportation, infrastructure, land use, zoning, comprehensive plans, community engagement, policy development, how government works and last but not least the political process.
I joined the American Planning Association (APA) to further my planner credentials and after meeting the experience requirements, I was certified as an AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners) – I took the test in 1986 and passed!
But, what is planning (called urban planning or city and regional planning)?
Is a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities by creating more convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient and attractive places for present and future generations.
Enables civic leaders, businesses, and citizens to play a meaningful role in creating communities that enrich people’s lives.
Helps create communities that offer better choices for where and how people live.
Helps communities to envision their future.
Helps communities find the right balance of new development and essential services, environmental protection, and innovative change.
My planning career changed direction (some say to the dark side) by the leaving the public sector and working for several midsize to large engineering/development firms. Now I was on the other side of the table, promoting and advocating for the same projects, where previously I had been the public agency planner writing staff reports recommending denial or approval.
These experiences provided unique perspectives and so I thought a blog could educate my community, the public and elected officials about planning because I was the “expert”, I knew more than they did! But as I read and researched blog content, reality hit me between the eyes – I really was not the expert. Planning, the economy and many other things changed dramatically – and perhaps I hadn’t!
The change in planning is manifested by ongoing controversy and conflict locally and around the country about how communities (places) have and are being developed. People don’t know what a planner is and what we do, are frustrated by growth/development issues and quite frankly the planning profession has let communities down. The status quo, the standard processes (that’s how we always do it!) I had learned long ago is no longer the process and solution for the ever-changing dynamics, with failing communities and economic disparities.
So now my intent for this blog is to provide a platform about relevant planning and community development issues, trends, best practices and then inform, educate and discuss how we can change our communities and the status quo.
But a community is really a place, each with unique attributes and context, encompassing the natural and built environments, economy and most important people who live, play, work and contribute. Together these provide the sense of a place – Placesense.
So my journey continues, knowing I’m not the expert, but with a passion to learn, knowing that one size does not fit all, and that change is more effective and lasting from the bottom up – from the places we live, work and play.
So let me know what you think – what topics should we talk about and how often to post. Only by discussion and dialogue can we change our places!