Earlier this year, a new crop of perspective students came to Boise to meet with Jaap Vos and in hopes of becoming Boise State’s newest planning students.
Recently appointed Boise City Planner, Derick O’Neill, joined the students in an open lunch at the programs downtown classroom.
Derick was kind enough to say a few words, and a few of those dealt with the mistakes planners make. Understanding that planning is a process, Derick said mistakes are okay, as long as we learn from them and “fail forward.”
Failing forward has a good ring to it. It’s much like teaching your children to learn from their mistakes. But mistakes in the city aren’t as simple as the lessons of childhood.
As a child if you touch something too hot, you burn your finger and learn to be more careful around hot surfaces..
As a planner, if you don’t properly plan for traffic and build development that causes traffic congestion, you are looking at lots of unhappy citizens and years of struggles to get traffic flowing in that area.
The consequences of a plan can also take longer to establish, and once the steps have been made there is no going back. You might miss those historic downtown buildings, but there is no bringing them back once they have been bulldozed.
Keeping in mind that what doesn’t work for one city, may still work for another, let’s see what lessons there are to be learned from the missteps of others.
When design goes wrong
One of London’s newest skyscrapers, known as the Walkie Talkie Tower,has come with some unforeseen consequences.
Like a child burning ants with a magnifying glass, the curved nature of the structure has reflected and magnified the sun’s rays onto the streets around the structure, and warped the cars and bikes parked below. City officials have been forced to close parking in the areas affected, and developers are considering applying a film that will diffuse the light when it is reflected.
Unfortunately, this could have been avoided if developers had “failed forward.” The architect, Rafael Vinoly, also designed a hotel in Las Vegas, NV, that caused severe burns to hotel guests when light reflected off the hotel and into the pool area below.
While officials say this should only last a few weeks out of the year, it is still an issue that could have been avoided. No one wants to lose parking spots in the core of a city.
Bike shares- A tale of two cities
The bike share system in Paris has been in place since 2007.
A recent report indicates that in 2012, over 9000 bikes were stolen or damaged. Of the 23,800 bikes provided or promised, only 14,000 remain in service.
Go north across the English Channel, and we find London’s bike share has been much more successful. They have seen only 143 thefts since it was implemented in 2010.
What did London do that Paris didn’t? How can their lessons help us “fail forward?”
The difference in success may have come from the differences in size. Paris sought to extend their bike share out into the suburbs, but it’s in those suburbs that the majority of the thefts took place. Meanwhile, London’s bike share is limited to the central area. Video surveillance may also have helped. Most of London’s public spaces have CCTV cameras, making it easier to catch criminals.
Lesson? Keep it small and close to the core, and find a way to monitor the bike share stations.
Forward failing we go
These may seem like two small examples, but any lesson to be learned is as important as another when it comes to our cities. With limited funding and the sheer permanence of the built environment, it’s the little things that matter. In a downtown core, where parking is a key issue, having a building that reflects light and requires parking bays be closed can have large consequences. Consequences that could have been avoided by paying attention to past mistakes.
Let’s say we want to give the people in our suburbs more transportation options and it comes down to a bike share or extending bus services. Bike shares certainly are trending. One could argue that the health benefits of biking due to increased physical activity and lower carbon emissions make this a no-brainer. But let us remember the tale of two bike shares. It might be that expanding buses is the right plan, if we consider the vandalism and theft of the bikes in the suburbs of Paris.
Failing forward is a good way to look at the planning process, but there is no need to fail where others already have. Allow the lessons learned by other cities to guide us forward as we work towards bettering our cities.