I hate to say it but, planning is so… well… boring.
This isn’t to say planners themselves are boring people — though I’ve known a few who could put a meth-fueled gorilla to sleep with their talk of tax-increment financing and the proper meaning of the word “may”.
No, Planning seems to have wrapped around it a cloak of social invisibility. Maybe this is due to a lack of perceived cool-ness by the glitterati, or an unwillingness among practitioners to engage in a bit of socially relevant boat-rocking — but regardless, the profession has all the avant garde qualities of a meatloaf dinner at grandma’s.
Architecture, as a profession, is a bit different. There, the profession carries with it a certain social cache — people lie about being architects.
I don’t know anyone who lies about being a planner.
Yet Architecture, perhaps because of its cool-ness, has a personality problem. There’s a huge discrepancy between what actually goes on in an architecture firm, and what society thinks is going on. The public thinks most architects design beautiful buildings, have impeccable taste, live in gorgeous homes, and make tremendous amounts of money (or, if they’re “poor” it’s because they’re choosing to suffer for their art). The reality is a quite a bit less glamorous; with careers choked with project schedules, pay applications, specification editing, and a myriad of management issues that leave most architects wishing they had switched majors.
But… there is a certain amount of success that comes with perseverance, and those architects who do succeed feel a kind of cultural pressure to justify their success by sponsoring and supporting more socially relevant work. So we see efforts like Sam “Sambo” Mockbee’s Rural Studio at Auburn University’s School of Architecture. The Rural Studio dedicates itself to providing architecture students a hands-on working experience as they design and build community-oriented projects in several poor counties in rural Alabama.
Also, there’s the DesignBuildBLUFF program at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture. DesignBuildBLUFF provides an opportunity for architecture students to design and build sustainable architecture on a Navajo reservation; with an eye towards graduating more compassionate architects.
And then there’s Cameron Sinclair’s mothership of compassion, Architecture for Humanity. Architecture for Humanity serves as a type of clearing house that connects professional architects, designers, and contractors with communities in need; taking the position that “design is the ultimate renewable resource.”
What we in the planning profession tend to lack are comparable outlets for our creative energies. Where are the university-based community-oriented efforts? Where are the connections to our under-served populations?
Tactical Urbanism is cool?
Maybe this is why Tactical Urbanism is so popular in planning programs these days. Is it an effort to make planning as relevant as the planning students, and social activists, feel it should to be?
And maybe… actually… worth lying about at a dinner party?
To be clear, there are precious few academics pushing the subject of what Jaime Lerner calls Urban Acupuncture — and even fewer professional planners (lest they risk violating their AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct). So it’s hard to draw equivalencies, at the level of the profession, between fully-supported academic program’s like the Rural Studio and grassroots efforts like Tactical Urbanism. And, unfortunately for most planning students, such efforts are rarely led or initiated by planners.
But here’s the point — do most of us really need lessons on being a decent human being?
Isn’t planning, with all its homely charm, simply the act of being decent to each other?
So yay, I’m rockin’ the boring.
Let me regale you with my ideas on tax revenue expenditures, on the finer points of public space policy, and the pernicious problems of sprawl.
Let’s go plant a garden on an abandoned lot and share our stories about the last public hearing we attended.
Or while we’re working on the next bit of hacktivism with Code for America, building an app that’ll help kids catch their school bus or make it easier for folks to find the closest healthy food store, let’s discuss better ways to craft a long-range regional transportation plan.
- This Impeccably Designed $20,000 House Could Soon Be Yours (fastcoexist.com)
- Medellin reborn: Life after Escobar violence (wdsu.com)
- All Because I Gave a Damn (theblogwander.com)
- New York Nerds Sift Citi Bike Data to Solve Availability (bloomberg.com)
- Summer of Smart: A San Francisco Experiment in Digital Democracy (atomicbomb.typepad.com)
- CJ Brian: Why I’m Coding for America (codeforamerica.org)