Its a Wrap! Did I learn anything about planning in 120 days?

Typical suburban landscape

In late August I embarked on a very interesting journey when I enrolled in the Introductory course in Community and Regional Planning (CRP).  I think my initial idea was to gain a better understanding of what the CRP Program was all about as well as to better educate myself around an issue that impacts the way we live each and every day – whether that be where we live, transportation options, recreational amenities or in the way we shop and entertain ourselves.  Now I know that planning has been a part of each and every one of the aforementioned issues but, like most people, I had never really given much thought as to how these planning decision impacted not only the way in which we live today but has repercussions that will be felt for generations in the future.   So as we wrap up this semester I thought you might actually want to know what this one person learned.

1)  You have to actually know what community planning is and isn’t.  In the book The Practice of Local Government Planning (1979) a synopsis of its definition of community planning lays out a framework of interactive public participation in which diverse community members (stakeholders) contribute towards the formulation of the goals, objectives, planning, fund/resource identification and direction, planned project implementation and reevaluation of documented local planning policy.   If you take this as your starting premise then you also have to assume that the process will be a bottom-up process that strives to harness public activism and promote public/private partnerships as a way of encouraging and fostering support for community-defined goals.   Further it strives to reach consensus on where scarce resources can be used to achieve maximum benefit while ensuring that the local governing structure encourages and fosters a more involved community through access to a wide-range of planning tools, strategic information sharing that allows local citizens to gain knowledge of current and future planning initiatives, and finally it encourages collaboration and coordination among overlapping jurisdictions in a way that fosters strategic and thoughtful growth.

The Blue Marble

2.  You have to develop a global view if you want to have local impact.  It so funny when you think about all the benefits that technology has given to us – and yet – it seems that we don’t use it to actually understand the world around us in a way that can reshape our viewpoint.  One of the key ah-hah moments for me this semester can about when I came to realize just how much exciting information there is in the world that puts on display the unlimited potential planning can afford our local and global communities.  My research on WaterFire in Providence RI opened my eyes to the possibility that Arts & Culture play in the revitalization of a stagnant community.  My research identifying census trends led me to the BuildABetterBurb website where the information on how to reinvent the suburban lifestyle has left me wondering if my local community will ever look beyond its own nose as it grapples with issues of growth and expansion that have spiraling impact beyond the confines of this suburban community.

3.  We can’t afford to wait for the future – we have to embrace it now.  We live in a world where everything seems to be “peaking” at the same time.  Oil, water, environment, land, food, animals, birds, bees and minerals all appear to be stressed by the impact people are having on the environment around us.  I noted in my blog about water that only 1% of the world’s water source is readily accessible and that in many parts of the world the lack of water will have significant environmental impact on untold numbers of communities.  Yet the reluctance of our leaders to embrace innovation – to foster sustainability over expansion – to work towards reducing our local carbon footprint yet provide for economic growth – points towards a time of increased hardship that could fundamentally reshape our communities worldwide.  In the midst of all of this uncertainty we see visionary planners stepping forward to espouse transformative ideas that reconnect our communities to the environment around it.  It is our responsibility to make sure these visions are seen.

4.  Embrace the “I” in planning.  As someone who came into this class with the hopes of gaining a better understanding of what planning is all about – I have come away with a profoundly difference perspective.  Planning has an “I” in it.  The “I” means that I have as much responsibility for the planning decisions that take place in this valley as the professionals who are paid to move planning decisions forward.  One of my blogs dealt with the Dynamis debacle from a few years back.  The project that would have funded a garbage burning energy producing complex at the Ada County landfill was pushed forward by a few vested entities without community input.  It was the collective “I’s” who, upon realizing the possible negative impact this facility would have on their community, organized a thoughtful and visible community response that ultimately derailed the project and resulted in new leadership within the Ada County Commission.  The “I’s” did it!  When I look at my own community of Meridian, I have often made comments about the lack of planning leadership (perceived or otherwise) that is currently driving the development throughout the community.  While it has been frustrating to watch – very few “I” have challenged that development.  That has to change – and it has to start with me.

Wikipedia Image

March on Washington – the ultimate group project

So, to Wrap it all up as neatly as possible!  This class have provided me with a unique opportunity to learn new things.  It has allowed me to interact with 14 exceptional students who bring a diversity of thought and ideas to the table that have been challenging yet compelling.  I have read articles that have broadened my understanding of planning as both a process and a product and I have come to the realization that not every voice that should be heard is heard. That has to change!   However, if I could encapsulate one key takeaway from this experience, it would be this – that ultimately the planning process must be a collaborative process – if we as a community stifle the collaborative nature of the planning process – then the resulting outcomes from that process is exactly the outcomes we deserve.  Be a part of the process – get involved!

Innovative bike paths

Innovative bike lanes are popping up all over the world. Many cities are working hard to get more people to ride their bikes over their cars. Not only can this help cut down carbon emissions, but it can create a safe environment for people to exercise and commute. There are many benefits for getting less people driving their cars, and some cities are doing it creatively.

britian bikelane

photo obtained from John Metcalph, Atlantic Cities

The Glowing Bike Lane-This bike lane in London has anti slip properties, saves money on energy bills, and creates a safer environment at night. Continue reading

A quantum leep for LEED

The latest version of LEED V4 was announced at the Green Building International Conference in late November 2013. The new version of LEED is contesting some of the critics who say LEED buildings are not doing their part in sustainability.  LEED v4 is described by Rick Fedrizzi, the CEO and president of USGBC as a “quantum leap”. One thing that LEED v4 is doing that it wasn’t doing before is looking at how buildings are actually preforming instead of just looking at design principles. From a sustainable perspective with economics, environment and equity the newly created LEED v4 seems to provide all three.  Continue reading

Community choices for Idaho: Idaho’s community program

At the annual conference of the Idaho chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-Idaho), Ted Vanegas  presented on the Community Choices for Idaho (CCI) program. A Senior Transportation Planner with the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD), Vanegas used this session to share the history of the program and how it advances ITD’s strategic goals of mobility, safety, and economic opportunity. Continue reading

The hidden costs of centralized animal feeding operations

The face of modern day agriculture has made a radical shift over the past few decades.  Most agricultural production in the United States is no longer done on small family owned farms, but on enormous corporate farms and animal feeding lots . One of the biggest changes comes from the rise of the Centralized Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This new face of agriculture, and in particular CAFOs have the potential to seriously damage not only our environment, but also the health of our communities.
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Stand and deliver: testifying at a planning and zoning hearing

Meridian City Hall, Idaho - Wikimedia, 12/16/2013

Meridian City Hall, Idaho – Wikimedia, 12/16/2013

The need may arise, or you may be called upon, to testify at a public hearing. For some, it may be as intimidating as a courtroom – perhaps in some respects like being the defense counsel, or in others, like being a party pursuing a civil suit. This pressure might feel overwhelming, but there are ways to prepare and educate yourself that may enable you to deliver a ‘pitch-perfect’ performance. That does indeed mean that there is a responsibility on your part (the citizen) to know the proverbial “Field of Play” when it comes to hearings, and it is the responsibility on their part (the planning body) to make the process clear and equitable.
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All aboard? The future of high speed rail in the US

What is the future for high speed rail in the United States? This is a highly debated issue for our nation as Europe and Eastern Asia are increasing their rail infrastructure in both speed and distances covered. These debates bring up questions pertaining to: Continue reading