Community. Experiences. Power.

A few words that resonated with me during the reading’s this week were community, experiences, and power.  These three words affect our lives in more ways than we realize in terms of planning and the urban environment.  To begin, who does the urban environment serve?  As Kotkin notes in “The Urban Future”, cities are more than just places where individuals work and economic growth is centralized.  A large percentage of the urban population depends on the city for resources, security, and simply a place to call home.  It seems that this has changed over the years since commerce, trade, and politics became a dominant force in urban areas.

In addition, the size of a city is not always a positive factor.  How can a city adequately provide for its residents if there is not a sustainable plan in place to protect its resources?  What are the effects of over-population, commerce, and the loss of affordable housing?  A few of the results can be pollution, crime, and congestion.  These potential results decrease the quality of life for residents and cause oppression.  Communities that are poor and lack resources have a more difficult time advocating for more sustainable and livable communities.

As Peter Evans describes in “Political Strategies for More Livable Cities”, sustainability and problems related to the environment are typically mobilized when the issues are located in communities of middle and upper class because there is access (and interest) to political groups.  Unfortunately, poor areas are not adequately represented by major political parties.  Another interesting point that Evans makes is that dominant parties are typically part of the problem, not the solution (pg. 505). In order to create a sustainable and livable community, the community needs to be mobilized to fight for their resources and rights.  Evans details various scenarios where opposition parties spark the interest of communities (pg. 506-507).  A sustainable environment is a key component to ensure the livelihood of these vulnerable neighborhoods.  In my experience as a planner, I have been involved in situations where certain groups of the population express their concerns about not feeling as though their interests have been represented or protected through various development proposals.  It just shows how powerful politics can be in our society….

 “The external connections that intermediaries provide play an essential role in enabling communities to become effective agents of livability” (Peter Evans, page 507).

Another example of how power affects an area relates to the diffusion of planning principles and theories.  I thought it was interesting to read about the different scenarios Steven Ward described in “Re-examining the International Diffusion of Planning” — I haven’t spent much time thinking about how planning theories have been diffused and shaped across the world.  What are the differences in the “information age” as opposed to during the initial exploration and colonization of countries around the world?  As Ward points out, diffusion is not always voluntary.  It depends on the individual country, or state.  Currently, planning theories/practices can be diffused quickly and shaped into unique experiences and scenarios.  The balance of power and control is important when the receiving country is having the planning ideas imposed on them.

“For cities to become more livable, groups and individuals inside and outside of the state must become more conscious of the necessity of looking for complementarities, forging alliances, and bridging differences that separate the multiple agendas that are part of livability.” (Peter Evans, page 516)

That particular quote truly made me think about how planning should work in our society.  Even though it is difficult, I think it is common sense for local government, members of the community, and the private sector to work together to ensure all interests are represented and an appropriate balance is maintained to promote sustainability and livability of our communities.

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