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.

Insights into City Planning: Ms. Hamer

I was really interested in the perspectives and insights that Ms. Hamer gave related to her experience in local government planning.  It was really helpful for me to hear new ideas to implement at work.  My job involves a lot of citizen engagement and it was helpful to hear about new strategies to gather input and comments from residents of the community.  In order to have a constructive meeting that gathers input from individuals that do not typically speak up, Ms. Hamer suggested breaking the larger group into smaller groups (8-10 people) and then allow them to discuss where they felt things should go in their community (parks, roads, height/density).  I think this could be very beneficial to the meetings we have on various projects.  Another important point she noted was to make sure the community supports the plans you are taking forward to the elected officials… although it can be difficult to ever get some individuals on board.

One takeaway from our discussion was the advice to take urban design classes.  I do not have much experience in this realm of the planning field so I will be taking this advice to improve and expand my skillset.  I had a great time listening to Ms. Hamer’s stories and career advice about the planning field.  It made me feel more inspired about the work that I do as an urban planner in local government.  Thank you for visiting our class!

We are all connected…

What kind of cities do we want to create for future generations?  We are all part of the process that will develop and shape this world for centuries to come.  We are connected through all processes of life – political, economic, social, and ecological.  The question is…how did we get here?  I feel like we are divided in a number of ways.  For this discussion, I will focus on cities and the current turmoil in our country…but it is important to note that this is happening all across the world.  What makes an urban environment “tick”?  I think it is the celebration of diversity, shared spaces, relationships, and experiences.

“What kinds of cities we create, how we create them, how flexible they are, how adjustable they can be: these are the questions we need to ask in order to understand better the relationship between process and thing.”  – David Harvey, “Contested Cities: Social Process and Spatial Form”

We need to think about how everything relates in this world.  Although there are those that embrace diversity and the chaos of cities, neither those individuals or those that try to impose order have been able to solve the issue of social marginalization and exclusion.  There is not adequate access to decision-making, resources, and power which helps enable social integration.  These are just some of the ways in which people are excluded from participation in the cities where they live.  How do we solve this?  Mixed-use zoning?  Constructing “inclusionary” housing?  Honestly, I am not sure how we solve the problems in society…but I know I have been very concerned with the lack of kindness and understanding in our country.  I think that is where it all begins.  If we want to develop thriving, integrated urban centers for future generations, we need to teach one another these fundamental concepts – be kind, be honest, and fight for what you believe in.  As my mom always said, “it is all about the choices you make”…I never thought it would strike me on such a deep level.

protest_santaana

In Ali Madanipour’s article, “Social Exclusion and Space”, he references the largest means of socio-spatial exclusion are national borders.  That was certainly a central theme of the 2016 presidential campaign.  He states that “no other form of exclusion has been associated with such high costs of human life, sacrifice, and misery” (page 6).  It is upsetting to realize how many people in our country embrace the idea of building a wall on our nation’s border. Really?  I just don’t get it.  Is it the idea or assumption that it will create an increased level of security?  But then it makes me wonder what exactly people think they are being protected from…do we have so little faith in humanity that we think we need physical/structural barriers along our national border?  I understand that this is experienced around the world, but it terrifies me that our president-elect has instilled such fear among the citizens of the United States.

We should be emanating positive change and social relations in our built environment.  The number of crimes and acts of violence are sensationalized in the media and give individuals the sense that they are not secure in their environment.  This is also experienced in urban design measures that transform public spaces into uninviting areas for residents and visitors.  Public spaces are important features for social integration and encouraging individuals from all different walks of life to have the opportunity for their paths to cross in life.  With the disappearance of these spaces, individuals are less likely to experience the true essence of the city.

washingtonpost_trump

So, how exactly did we get here?  Maybe we should see what John Oliver has to say….interesting episode this week, everyone!  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rSDUsMwakI)

A Balancing Act: Economic Growth, Sustainability, and Environmental/Social Justice

I debated whether or not I wanted to write my blog after the conclusion of the presidential election tonight…but I decided now might be more beneficial.  There were various segments of the readings this week that made me think about the world and the way we each experience it.  I will begin with Scott Campbell’s article on “Green Cities, Growing Cities, Just Cities?”.  Sustainability is an interesting and very contentious topic in the urban planning field.  I agree with Campbell’s perception that sustainability means something different depending on the individual and their interests and experiences in this world.  I think the role of the planner should remain as a mediator that promotes balance between economic growth and environmental/social justice.  However, this seems impossible because of competing political interests and financial constraints.  I cannot relate to the private sector side of the planning profession, but this is certainly my experience in the public sector.

How is sustainability truly measured?  How can we create short-term, attainable steps to reach the center of “the planner’s triangle” that Campbell describes?   It is difficult to balance the economy, environment, and equity.  Unfortunately, not much is going to be accomplished if these issues are only viewed from a local jurisdiction level.  I think sustainability and balance need to be addressed on [at least] a regional level in order to be effective.  Although Campbell discusses in a historical context that communities were once dependent on sustainability for survival, I think this is still true.  I understand that we have access to long-term storage and international trade, but isn’t the entire population dependent on these resources for survival?  There is not an unlimited supply of resources and space…in addition, the distribution of these resources is not equal.  I understand and agree that the path to sustainable cities and development is unclear and difficult to define, but I think it is vital to the survival of humanity to pay attention to the way we are treating the environment and the distribution of our resources.

An interesting video from National Geographic (2011) depicts the growing world population and the inadequate distribution of resources.  It is all about balance.

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National Geographic | Photograph by: Randy Olson

In terms of environmental and social justice, these problems are typically not recognized or discussed as problems unless there is authority to validate the claims and exhaustive media coverage to draw attention to the issue (pg. 451).  Otherwise, the problem does not register on the political agenda.  The media has played a substantial role in the current presidential campaign.  As Frank Fischer notes, “it is generally the language about political events, not the events themselves, that people experience” (pg. 454). The way one interprets or views the decisions and ideologies of those in power is based on personal experiences. You cannot lose sight of the issues and values that are important to you – no matter how difficult that can be in our society.

“The spectacle of politics is a modern-day fetish, a creation in part of political actors that come to dominate the thoughts and activities of both its audience and the actors themselves.”  Frank Fischer, “Public Policy as Discursive Construct” (pg. 455)

The media plays a huge role in politics – especially the presidential campaign.  Does anyone really know the details about issues our Country is facing?  What are our prospective leaders planning to do to ensure the future generations will live in a sustainable environment?  It is so important for our residents to be aware of the issues and have the ability to articulate potential solutions in order to make educated decisions.  Citizen participation is a key factor in determining the best course of action for the development of our communities – we just need to recognize and embrace the value of the individual experience.

What is Equality?

A major role of a planner is to create better communities that benefit the residents regardless of gender, ethnicity, class, or sexuality.  However, what is considered equality or the common good?  In my opinion, everyone should have the same opportunities and be accepted into the various realms of society, but acceptance has a different meaning to everyone.  How has urban planning shaped neighborhoods and promoted injustice and inequality?  The assigned readings provided different perspectives of how planners are interconnected with these themes and issues in society.  I was particularly interested in the article that discussed gender politics in urban planning.

Dolores Hayden’s article, “Nurturing”, really made me take a step back and think about my role in the workforce.  I am passionate about my career and what I have accomplished so far in my life but I often wonder about where I will be in my career five years from now.  It is almost 2017 and as a woman I am still wondering if it will make financial sense to still work after I have a child.  Really?!  I can’t believe I still have to consider that.  I believe that I am capable of changing this world for the better, but our society does not allow women to fully pursue their goals.  I think it is important for employers to promote a strong work/life balance.  I think women feel guilty about having to make a choice about pursuing career goals or staying home to raise their children.  However, sometimes the numbers just do not add up.  For example, in Washington, D.C. “for a family of four — two parents and two children — child care costs in the city average $2,597 per month, or $31,158 per year” (Austermuhle, 2015).  This data was based on an updated family budget calculator created by the Economic Policy Institute.

housewife

A woman’s perceived role in the household has changed since the beginning of the twentieth century when the market economy began promoting new gadgets that would hypothetically make housework easier.  Unfortunately, this did not make the work easier – it forced women to become “the ‘managers’ supervising their own speedup” (pg. 366).  I haven’t spent much time thinking about what life would have been like without all of the fancy appliances that are found in homes today.  I think that these inventions have caused our society to speed up and not enjoy the simple pleasures in life.  When more women began entering the workforce after World War II, issues of equality became even more prevalent. This also has a correlation to the various types of homes, employment opportunities and design of cities and neighborhoods.  The U.S. Department of Labor statistics show that in 2014 the top 25 occupations for employed women were mostly related to education, nursing, retail, and administrative jobs.  The top common jobs do not include lawyers, executives, or doctors which typically earn higher wages.

Over the years, the increase of women in the workforce has led to an increase in child care costs.  It has changed the structure of neighborhoods and the idealistic version of the home.  I grew up in a household in a rural community with both parents at home to raise their children.  That was a very different situation than most of the families near us because we lived on a farm.  It was not easy, but somehow my parents made it work.  In an urban environment, there are multiple family structures and ways of life.  It is the role of the planner to consider this when writing and implementing plans to design communities.  How will the decisions that are being made affect lives for those around you?  Will these planning decisions encourage acceptance of individuals living in the city regardless of gender, race, and class?

commonoccupations_women

Power, Partnerships and Public Participation

Matti Siemiatycki’s article “Implications of Private-Public Partnerships on the Development of Urban Public Transit Infrastructure” provided an interesting perspective of private-public partnerships and the effect on the public planning process.  An important part of the public planning process is effective communication and transparency.  For example, when a local government is working on establishing a private-public partnership to construct public infrastructure – it is difficult to fully involve the community in the process.  The author indicates that this is mainly due to the confidentiality requirements of the private industry.  In addition, the private sector has an incentive for being creative and innovative in their approach.  In many cases, this type of partnership does not embrace Sherry Arnstein’s “ladder of citizen participation”.  How are other important stakeholders involved in the process and able to weigh in on the decisions being made about the proposed development?  In terms of project delivery, the design-build-finance-operate (DBFO) approach can be successful…especially if there is political and financial support for a particular project.

One example of a private-public partnership is a recent redevelopment of the Ballston Mall in Arlington, Virginia.  The Arlington County Board approved this project in November 2015 and expressed how beneficial the project would be to the Ballston community.  The partnership would consist of the County funding approximately 17.5% of the entire project which is $317 million.  The County funds would be used to, “improve the public garage and public infrastructure such as street work on Wilson Boulevard, a new pedestrian bridge across Wilson Boulevard and streetscapes”.  The project consists of the redevelopment of the Ballston Mall (“Ballston Quarter”) with the hope to enhance the vibrancy of the neighborhood and attract new businesses to the area.  The property will include mixed-use residential, outdoor shopping and new office space.  A portion of the taxes generated from the redevelopment will go towards the Community Development Authority (CDA) bond that will finance the process – the remainder of the taxes will go towards the County’s General Fund.  In this case, there was a robust public outreach process during the consideration of the site plan amendments (included in the press release link below).  I am interested to follow this project to determine whether or not this partnership will be a true success.

ballston-quarter-renderings

Ballston Quarter Drawings | Arlington County, Virginia

Press Release – Ballston Quarterhttps://newsroom.arlingtonva.us/release/arlington-approves-major-redevelopment-of-ballston-mall/

This brings me to the other article in this week’s reading that was interesting to me.  In Bent Flyvbjerg’s “Bringing Power to Planning Research”, the author discussed the question of power in relation to the planning process.  Is knowledge power or is power knowledge?  I will say that working for a local government agency is much different than learning about how it operates in school.  There are many factors that you cannot learn from a textbook….you need to be immersed in it to truly understand.  The power of an elected body can ultimately change the outcome of a development proposal or create an entirely different committee to complete a task.  As Flyvbjerg states in the article, “as students, we were not exposed to knowledge that addressed the question of whether it is true that knowledge is always important or what decides whether knowledge gets to count as knowledge or not. Such questions were not asked”.  This is an interesting point because as a planner, your planning recommendations can be swayed by those who hold decision-making power.  The special interests of different organizations can play a significant role in the viewpoints surrounding a project.  This also can affect what type of developments are built, transportation infrastructure that is invested in or the environmental goals that are set as priorities for a particular jurisdiction.  As the author states, these interests are not always in line with the planner’s recommendation and analysis of what is best for the community.

 

 

 

 

How Can I Become a Better Planner…?

The theories and strategies presented in this week’s readings were particularly interesting to me.  I could apply some of the examples to situations I have been in as a planner and I also had the opportunity to reconsider the way I think about certain interactions and experiences.  From the article by Anthony Downs, I could relate to the issues and concerns he raised about the most widely “accepted” view of the ideal pattern of development.  In my opinion, yes…of course the majority of the population would like to have a decent amount of personal property or space.  However, if you choose to reside close to the urban core, I think there should be a drastically different vision of the ideal type of development. The ownership of a car, spacious lots, and suburban workplaces (with free parking) should not be priorities – especially if you would like to see the city succeed and prosper. However, I frequently experience this as the dominant viewpoint!  I rarely hear from proponents of density and taller buildings while working on development applications. Even though I am a country girl at heart, I can understand that if development is concentrated to high density areas then more people will have the opportunity to live where they work.  This will eventually ease traffic congestion and long commutes which will improve quality of life among residents.

Will the alternative to the “ideal vision” ever be accepted by the majority of the population?  I think it some ways, yes.  I think that it takes a while for the values to change in an individual.  A big part of this is education and engaging the public in the discussion of alternatives to typical development patterns.  The Tysons area of Fairfax County is beginning to see a transformation that connects people with their environment.  In the past, Tyson’s Corner was an area where people just worked, they did not live there.  As a result, the traffic congestion has become unbearable.  However, with the investment in public transportation I think we will see a transition over the next several years to an urban village with residents that live and work in the Tysons area.  I wonder if many people attended the public meetings over the years regarding the redevelopment of Tysons since there were not many residents living in the local community until recent years…

As you can see below, this region has seen a tremendous amount of growth over the last 50 years.

Tyson’s Corner, Virginia | 1967 | Ghosts of DC

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Tyson’s Corner, Virginia | 1950s | Ghosts of DC | Intersection of Route 7 and 123

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In Sherry Arnstein’s article, “A Ladder of Citizen Participation”, various forms of public participation are illustrated.  I found myself wondering how I could be a better planner during public hearings and community meetings by keeping some of these scenarios in mind.  For example, I want to make sure I am not just “informing” citizens of development proposals or community plans/studies.  I think that there definitely needs to be a channel for the individuals in the community to provide feedback in a constructive way.  They should not be attending meetings to only be informed of what is going to happen in their neighborhood.  Although “consultation” is a step above “informing” on the “eight rungs on the ladder of participation”, it still does not fully engage the public in the planning process.  This step reminds me of standard public hearings.  I think the most effective form of public participation is through “partnership”.  I think that “delegated power” and “citizen control” could possibly work in certain communities but I am a little skeptical that these two rungs of the ladder would become dominant strategies for public participation.