Since meeting Chuck Marohn, I’ve advocated for his rational Strong Towns approach to reforming our inefficient auto-oriented infrastructure system. Chuck’s message to focus infrastructure decisions on their long-term return on investment is radical because he is a Traffic Engineer. Honestly, the most frustrating and irrational meetings I have held are not with any citizen group or elected officials, but with local Traffic Engineers. Over the years, smarter growth traffic specialist like DeWayne Carver, Rick Hall, Rick Chellman, and Peter Swift have protected me from having too many direct encounters, but all are located east of the Rockies.
As the planning profession roils in the confluence of the 21st century’s Great Recession, Peak Oil/Peak Auto Travel, Millennial [Re]urbanization, and the borderline religious fervor of sustainability, I have officially declared that ours is not the same planning profession John Nolen built. So, how can planning rebuild its brand?
This is not the planning profession John Nolen built. A century later, our great recession has sparked a full re-evaluation of what a city’s urban planning department should be ‘doing’ for its citizens. As witnessed in Los Angeles and San Diego, the planning profession is being measured by its eternal conundrum between Forward Planning Departments that plan for future development projects and Current Planning Services that process today’s development applications.
And, it appears that a few radical devolutions are taking place.
Citizens, politicians, and planning officials have embraced the need to allow for walkable neighborhoods across North America and mixed-use is an essential component for achieving walkability. However, the term mixed-use has held different meanings in different places over the past 40 years or so.
For example, mixed-use zones have usually had to declare a primary and secondary use with both use’s development standards redundantly stacked together and the primary use, such as residential, controlling the building’s configuration, orientation and disposition — thereby marginalizing the building’s ability to effectively host other commercial or office uses. Also, a mixed-use zoning designation meant that a land owner had the right to ‘choose’ a specific use, such as either commercial or residential. While the zoning district had a mix of uses, the implementation was single-use.
Chuck Marohn, and his Strong Towns message, is revolutionary in that he is a credible transportation professional who is single-handedly taking on the transportation profession. And winning.
Last year, Walt Chambers of Great Streets San Diego, and I brought Chuck to San Diego for one of his now ubiquitous Curbside Chats. In short, the Strong Town message is to be cognizant of the long-term ramifications of short-term infrastructure investments, especially ones that simply support auto-oriented lifestyles.
As we re-populate our downtowns, and watch the crime statistics drop, people are seeing safety in numbers. Jane Jacobs was right about eyes on the street reducing crime. With the sense that it’s indeed safe to be in cities again, it appears that citizens are re-learning how to be connected in an urban context. Downtown’s street cafes, shops and plazas, filled with activity, are proof that we’re succeeding in bringing people back downtown. Safely.
This wasn’t always so.
Homelessness is an everyday issue that gets a little additional attention during the holidays. A recent HUD report estimated that, on a single night, 633,782 people are homeless across the United States. What surprised me and others, however, was the fact that, after New York and Los Angeles, it’s San Diego, our 8th largest city (and my hometown), that has the country’s third highest number of homeless. And a too high percentage of them are military veterans.
Yesterday, I had the great fortune of sitting on a panel to discuss the possibilities of Redevelopment 2.0 in California. The other panelists included CNU Board member Scott Polikov, APA President-elect Bill Anderson, affordable housing advocates, planning professionals and professors, as well as my lovely wife (discussing the California Environmental Quality Act).
Sadly, I blew it.