Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Planners Mired in an Irrelevant Past, Columnist Says

Here's a little something to make all you planners out there think a bit. It's an opinion column in the New Zealand Herald (great place, New Zealand. I spent two years there, years ago), by Owen McShane (great name, too), Director of the Centre for Resource Management Studies (sounds like a planner of sorts, as well).

McShane talks about planners' seeming obsession with trying to keep retail on a Main Street scale, and the effort to recreate communities of times past. He also has an interesting quirk of calling planners "regulators," which may tell us something about what he thinks of planners.

McShane says, "The reports and planning documents that regulators use to justify their protection of mainstreet retailing centers...claim consistently that protecting 'the traditional centres' will maintain, or even restore, 'vibrant local communities.'

"This is a seductive claim," McShane continues. "Sadly it is wrong. Places do not create communities. Communities create places.

"Today, (the patterns of community interaction) have changed, but these changes seem to have passed the regulators by."

He concludes his column by saying, "We cannot write these outcomes into books of rules. And we will not meet the needs of today by regulating to maintain an irrelevant past."

McShane has a point. Read and think.


At 1:00 PM, Blogger Planner Perplexed said...

Here here to Mr. McShane! I generally agree. Communities do create places. But it is not rare that places can create community.

I think this explains why I am frustrated with planning as a whole. We over regulate and stifle creativity. As I have said before, I think the biggest obstacle to great communities and places is government. And I think that for the most part planners often regulate too much. But at the behest of whom? Usually elected officials who are largely ignorant of sound planning principles. Planners are mostly not in control of what gets approved and what doesn't and they have limited influence compared to other dept. heads, etc. They just don't have the pull.

I think it is true that many cities whose obsession with Main Street overshadows the development of the rest of the community. Bountiful seems to be continually reinventing Main Street. Is it a place anyone really is dying to go to? I wonder if it will ever be what city fathers hope it will be. I'd like to think it can.

We (planners) need to loosen the rules, allow for creativity and not be afraid of mixing uses. But that will not happen until the policy makers (electeds) come around to the sense that planners try to make.

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