Thursday, March 19, 2009

For my 200th Blog Post – Another Tale of a City Planner

The Site Visit

Last night I went into a community planning function in another city just for kicks when someone asked me, what do you do as a community planner. Usually I either give them a really short answer like, review developments, organize community plans, or I give them a long answer on all the minor tasks I do on a day-to-day basis. Being a community planner is really whatever you make out to be, for the most part there are no clear established tasks. A simple e-mail from a resident asking about traffic calming can balloon into a transit corridor study a year later.

However there is one task that all community planners must perform to understand their surroundings and community…the site visit. For every major and minor development or change in a community, I have to go on a site visit. Some of these site visits are informational (as in, I didn’t know this was there), adventurous (I don’t know if I should drive down this dirt path in the woods) or historical (George Washington drank here…really?) but a good number of them are a bit of a waste of time. Nothing is more fulfilling then checking a request to raise a shed to 21 feet from the required 15 feet. The bird’s eye view in MSN has been a lifesaver from pointless site visits.

In all my travels in going to site visits by far the ones that are the most fun have been in the rural side. In looking for developments on small side streets way out in the countryside I have accidentally driven into other counties, other states (PA) and once into someone’s lamppost and drove away like hell. Country roads have the best road crossing signs. Forget about regular cross signs for students or deer, wait to you see a sign for bulls, sheep, tractors and my favorite horse-drawn buggies.

With so many crossings you would think that traffic would be relatively slow for a small, two-lane, winding road bordered by 100-year-old oak trees. But what you get are ex-urbanites, race cars and trucks all riding your bumper at 50 mph while you turning tight corners hoping there is more road ahead of you and not a tree. Driving becomes even more difficult when you are staring at a forest or an anonymous group of farms wondering, is that the development site? Good luck on stopping, or finding a place to pull over or even a u-turn.

The most fun is slowly creeping into people’s neighborhoods or property with no sign identification on your car. Now, most of the time this would be a bit of concern for me, being that as you can tell by my profile picture, I am a large African-American male and I am slowly driving through a rural all-white neighborhood. Who knows what these people think I am doing. Fortunately, all of them take pity because they KNOW that I am lost. Many people will pull over or stop what their doing to sincerely ask, “Sir, can I help you?” or “Where are you trying to head to sir?” God bless them…for not pulling shotguns (which has happened to other planners).

Most of the time, my adventure stops after reaching the site but sometimes it only just begins. While at various sites, I have been chased by dogs, stared down by a mammoth bull standing just 20 feet away, been startled by foxes hoping out of bushes and ended site visit because a pile of crap was too large to be a dog. And whatever animal made that pile, I do not want to see alone in the woods. I’ve started picked up large sticks now when I have to go through woods and fields now.

Not all my own property visits have included the fear of being mauled by a forest animal. Many visits have included me jumping over streams, discovering walking and ATV paths, overlooking valleys, standing next to inlets by the Chesapeake Bay and checking out old historic ruins.

Site visits in the suburbs or in urban areas are nowhere near as fun…except for semi-country neighborhoods that have the most stunningly awful architectural gems you will ever see. Although some urban neighborhoods are pretty cool and they have these things called bars which when traveling with another planner I always end up in after the site visit.

I hope you have learned another critical aspect into what planners do and have to go through when planning the future to your neighborhood. We are not government officials in ivory towers creating master plans for neighborhoods that we have never been to before. Nope, we are in your neighborhood getting chased by your dog or in your local neighborhood tavern or restaurant.

Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

Kirk Mantay said... hit on an interesting point with the "waste of time." You (or I) could do a whole post on the little tricks you pull out over the phone to identify these "wastes of time" without having to drive all the way out there and see it for yourself.