What Are We (Urban) Planning?

he most confusing thing about planning is that you can’t plan for anything. No one knows the future. Urban planning is more like the laying down of dreams into reality, not planning how future populations will live.

Because how would you do that? How do you plan where people will want to live in 50 years? Do you create places where they’ll want to live, or do you let them choose from the blank slate and then build for/around that?

Do we follow the natural pattern of what people will do or do we create a pattern for people to follow?

I don’t think suburbs were a natural occurrence. Maybe in our minds, we wanted to get away from the troubling inner city and have yards for our kids, but a lot of work went into creating these suburbs and selling them to families. Are we doing the same with Transit-oriented town centers? Is it a bad thing?

You can’t tell someone where to live. But you can lure them into it. Planners and developers and realtors are so dependent on the general public, on what people want out of life. It’s a real temptation for planners, developers, realtors to tell people what they want out of life and then give it to them. But what business doesn’t do this? TV ads tell us every day what we want. They are just creating attractive merchandise, or providing services people need. Is there any shame in creating attractive neighborhoods and convincing people they need to walk more?

I think most people don’t even think about the width of their streets or their commute to work. Or building frontages. It’s undercurrent, because they do notice how safe their kids are, and people will move to a place that feels safer. Or emptier. Or busier. But they can’t stop what other people will want (to live next door, to play their music loud). The question of freedom and rights gets really confusing here. The answer has been private property. If you have enough money, you can buy the amount of land you want. But not any location you want, because of zoning.

We’re a free market and we’re very market-driven, but we make bad decisions. A lot. That’s why we have laws.

How should planning be done in the future? How does it become democratic and not market-driven? Anyone read any good books about this?


3 thoughts on “What Are We (Urban) Planning?

  1. I agree with most of your commentary on planning. As a GR resident for the last 36 years and involved in the real estate community, I can tell you that most people headed to the burbs for the schools and lifestyle. That doesn’t make it the best thing to do, but that is what happened. Builders and Realtors were giving people what they wanted. In fact, that is what most still want, irregardless of ecological damage to our native topography. Maybe education about the consequences of suburban living needs to come first?

    1. Definitely. And new visions of what safe neighborhoods with good schools are, and a reminder of how great it is to be able to walk places. Thanks for commenting!!!

  2. Or, intensifying our current suburban infrastructure. This may mean building taller residential buildings. Get rid of any zoning against it. Some people like suburban living, but relish compartmentalized living — especially young suburbanites. I think this type of development would do great in suburban GR, especially near the airport and major intersections including ramps to major interstates around the metro.

    By the way, intensifying the city doesn’t also mean retracting people from the suburbs. Asking simple questions as to why things are the way they are can suffice. Why does one suburb need or have any interest in having tracts with 1du per 4 acres? Most suburban people may agree that a lot of 1 to 1 1/2 acre is plenty.

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