Over 200 people showed up to hear planning directors speak. Photo: Michael Rhodes
City planners have been on the hook for some of the last century's greatest metropolitan mishaps: urban freeways and "slum clearance," arbitrary minimum parking requirements, and land use laws that have left little room for the mingling of uses. Understandably, today's planners are a bit humbled. But when planning directors from some of North America's most progressive cities spoke at City Hall this week about the political challenges that face urban planners, several of them said the field needs to move beyond worrying about past mistakes.
"Because of the failure of the planning profession in
the past, we've gotten quiet, we've gotten a little too meek," said Brent Toderian, Vancouver's planning director. "We serve
at the will of politicians, and are often unwilling to speak truth to
power loudly and persuasively and in public. I think that's really been
an absolving of our leadership responsibilities in the profession."
SPUR and the San Francisco Planning Department hosted the discussion
with planning heads from SF, New York, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver,
Minneapolis and San Diego, who were all in town for the Urban Land Institute's annual expo.
While the directors didn't lack for bold visions, some lamented the planning field's fixation on avoiding undesirable consequences. "I'd have to say, especially in California, unfortunately, the field has evolved into focusing on preventing bad things from happening instead of making good things happen," said Bill Anderson, San Diego's planning head.
Minneapolis planning chief Barbara Sporlein echoed that concern. "So much of planning is making up for past mistakes," she said. "It just feels like every time something happens, [we say,] 'That can't happen again.'" Read more...