Northern News


A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

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Everyone wants progress but no one wants change

Ed. Note: As planners and agents of change, we know the truth of that headline. I saw the following post on LinkedIn’s Urban Planning Group on February 11 and decided to track the comments. As of February 22, the post had drawn 657 reactions and 55 comments.

The post’s author is Ludo Campbell-Reid, Director of City Design and Livability for Wyndham, “the fastest-growing municipality in Australia.” From 2006-2019, he held various urban design positions in Auckland, New Zealand. Campbell-Reid holds a postgrad diploma and an MA in urban design from Oxford Brookes University (Oxford, UK), and a BA in urban planning from the University of Westminster (London, UK).

I selected eight supportive and seven argumentative comments that are reasonably of interest to planners in northern California and edited them lightly to conform with North American grammar.

Initial post

I’ve always felt that we should be psychologists before we are planners, architects, traffic engineers, or economists. Cities are about people, after all.

Transforming or adapting cities is as much about behavioral change as it is about physical change.

As I mentioned at a recent Property Council Victoria session on Precincts, city solutions are never binary. Never black or white. Mostly shades of gray.

Undertaking urban change or renewal involves disruption of all sorts. Many good projects never see the light of day.

So in terms of persuading, it’s not just about heart, it’s also head. Finance (or economics) plays a massive part in the decision-making process and needs to be addressed concurrently, as audiences are diverse.

As urbanists, we need data that powerfully articulates the argument for a U-turn in the way we currently plan our cities. That’s [not] just a lesson for the US but for Australian cities and many of our low-rise, sprawling, auto-dependent areas. This graphic is one of the best.

The cost of sprawl. Source: Sustainable Prosperity, based on data from Halifax Regional Municipality.

Eight supportive comments on LinkedIn

Yangbo Du, Social Business Architect, Facilitator. The figures Ludo Campbell-Reid shared are well within bounds of plausibility. … For Australia-New Zealand, Melbourne is comparable in spatial layout and population trends, albeit at a much bigger size (5M versus 1.5M pop.) whereas Adelaide, Perth, and Auckland are comparable by size class. Figures from comparable cities in the U.S. can be expected to be far worse in terms of funding gaps, given urban cores are much weaker in terms of residential and job density.

Harry Boxler, AICP, Sr. Supervising Environmental Manager at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff. Thank you for this quote: “I’ve always felt that we should be psychologists before we are planners, architects, traffic engineers, or economists. Cities are about people, after all.”

Pete Zadeian. For me, planning has always been about change,’ from strategy of goals or directions to policy to assessments/approvals to demonstrations and enforcement. Planners need to be brave, think differently, and articulate why change is good — easier said than done, of course.

Christopher Whittaker, AICP. The cost of fire and police is factored in, as is the cost of public services. Keep in mind that because there are more folks living in a smaller area, the need for a large amount of fire and police infrastructure on a per capital basis to meet response times for ISO drops significantly. Also, the higher cost of housing in cities is a product of the free market. There is greater demand, and supply is unable to meet it due to the need to include parking (mainly structured) and stormwater.

Usmaan Farooqui, Ph.D, Research | Public Interest | Project Development. Love this graphic. I would only add that, in addition to approaching planning as a multidimensional practice, it’s also important to treat it as a bottom-up phenomenon. I think it would be wonderful to encourage people to take part in, and ownership of, necessary urban change.

Joseph A. Pobiner, FAICP, Principal at Perkins Eastman. That’s a great graphic and it does show a significant difference between the two. But this also isn’t an “either/or” issue — there are numerous shades of gray. Is a small village or township “urban” or “suburban”? Maybe both or neither, depending on how it is built and where it is. The distinction between urban and suburban also doesn’t always reflect regional cultural differences. Joel Garreau’s “Nine Nations of North America” (1981) is a good read. (You can argue with the lines he’s drawn, but his premise still holds.) And we’ve seen in the US that the voting patterns in the last few presidential elections have tended to reflect an urban/suburban split along liberal/conservative lines. So it’s not an easy “either/or” scenario.

M. Sultan Al-Asailan, chief architect, Ministry of Transport, Riyadh. (Translation from Arabic via LinkedIn) One of the basics for urban planning and design engineers is to study the human behaviors and the multiple cultures, as well as management. All of this helps us in planning, climate science, and nature; and services and facilities onsite are more important than the inhabitant itself. We must plan and design for man and nature.

Rebecca Aird, Director, Community Engagement, Ottawa Community Foundation. Yes, the study is dated (2013) and relates to a particular municipality with lower than average suburban density. But the data shows that public sector (taxpayer) funded costs are almost 2.5 times higher to support a suburban vs. a rural household. That’s such a significant difference that mitigating factors like higher suburban density and more efficient public transit are not going to bridge it. We need to believe in, expect, and build high-density, amenity-rich, nature-graced and affordable cities. Many parts of many cities already demonstrate these qualities. If it exists, it’s possible!

Seven argumentative comments on LinkedIn

Alexander Clarke, Business Consultant, Naples, Florida. Is urban sprawl an opposite of urban renewal? This is such a fun thought! Building up either means higher building in currently suburban neighborhoods, or it means large land-use plans in undeveloped areas. Each decision has its own costs. Each project should have its own analysis.

Benjamin Loveday, Director at Oviiso Pty Ltd, Adelaide. Everything you say is correct, but we are simply not connecting with the customer. And when we do, there it is again: the binary choice between a big conventionalist house and an out-of-date townhouse with three floors that are difficult for older people and children to navigate, and there’s no backyard and fresh air. Arguing the graphic is “symbolic” is a diversion, because the customer does not have a futurist informed vision of what they need. No one has offered it. There the binary choice is … in your graphic, at the top in the primary position in your graphic. The customer then asks “can I afford the $3462”, and the bank says yes, and the [real estate] agent says “way to go” rubbing their hands with glee; the approval authorities rubber stamp it because that’s what they do, and professionals like us say nothing, because we are not in the room. We need to get into the room and offer them an alternative that meets their needs. Australia needs 1 million affordable houses that are aligned with Australian needs and desires, that are economically, environmentally, socially, and dare I say it, culturally sustainable.

Graham Marshall, Expert Advisor, High Street Task Force. You need appropriate spaces before you can live (behave) sustainably — place comes first. But just creating space and moving people in doesn’t work: they bring their old behaviors with them and reshape the place around those. People have to be involved in the future of their places so that both grow together — and the mechanism is about people being future-focused. To do any of this, as you say, the facilitators of change need to understand human psychology, especially evolutionary psychology. We need to take a PIE approach — Psychologically Informed Environments.

Joseph Herbert, Consulting Analyst at Sailfast Development, Toms River, New Jersey. Unfortunately, Ludo Campbell-Reid completely ignored the cost of public safety and public services. Additionally, the costs stated are completely skewed. For example, a one bedroom apartment in NYC or Philadelphia costs >$1700 a month, $800 more than my mortgage. NYC costs a worker 64 percent of his income in taxes alone. In my town that is down to 44 percent of income.

David T. Your point is a good one. It would certainly be great to have more research into the relative environmental, social, and financial “costs” of suburban sprawl versus urban intensification. Unfortunately, however, this graphic is misleading and not especially helpful. The graphic comes from research undertaken by Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia, Canada — not the US — in 2015. The “suburban” example refers to a low-density suburb at 16 people per acre — hardly a typical modern suburb. Typically we are seeing densities of 24 people per acre in our new suburban neighborhoods, more like the low-density urban neighborhoods in the Halifax study. You’re right, as urbanists we need reliable data. Misleading graphics are not helpful.

J.D. Eagles, Owner, Just Bee Farms, Colton, Oregon. I have always thought that in order to plan, the agreement must be formation of a community, be it city or suburban area. Covid isolation, and lack of public health, ‘bubbles’ to sustain education, and [un]employment are byproducts of a lack of community. If anything, we must learn from these experiences and prepare for more of these same occurrences unless or until we are able to control our toxic emissions and annihilation of our forests. Your statement, “our view of planning must not be black and white, but must include gray areas,” needs to be taken one step further. Our plans must include green spaces, parks, and streets into pedestrian shopping parks, as well as LEED construction and remodeling of living space, and clean low cost public transportation.

Dennis Schijffout, IMOSS bureau, Utrecht, Netherlands. Over the last 150 years, our design of cities was about cars, streets, sidewalks, and parking lots. Change our concept of mobility and we change our city. Use practical and useful biodiversity and sustainability measures in design and we’re on our way! The binary choice between urban and sub-urban is not necessary.

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