Friday, July 17, 2009

More than just Place-making

One of the running themes of this blog is showing how people experience and interact with the city. In between opinion pieces of the challenges of city planning are multiple posts showing urban art from all over the world. While posts about planning theory implementation and urban art may seem like an odd mix they both aim to affect how people interact with their environment. Like new planning theories, urban art intends to not only create a sense of place but also define how people experience their own neighborhood.

The perspective of this blog is on how people live in cities and not on city planning theories and ideals. In my opinion, too much of city planning focuses on implementing proposed liveable and defined spaces and not on the outcomes of the people they have affected. City planning theories and ideals focus almost solely on defining neighborhood spaces and not enough on building the community’s social capital. When planning neighborhoods, planning theorists often fail at addressing where will the working poor live, how can we improve city schools, and how can we produce more non-retail jobs?

Now all of the above questions deal with issues that go way beyond city planning’s scope but they are all central issues on how and where people live. To ignore these questions on how people truly live and experience their city is to whitewash cities into one identical ball of putty that can be shaped into whatever planner ideals that we envision. This type of thinking ignores regional and local identities, cultural differences, socio-economic patterns and is very…suburban. In fact, most city planning ideals are most successful in suburban locales where suburban lifestyles almost trump any possible conflicts on identity, culture and socio-economic patterns.

City neighborhoods do not share the luxury of middle class stability as their identity-less suburban neighbors. Great city master planning will not significantly improve schools, increase the number of non-retail jobs or greatly impact soci-economic patterns. This is why city planning has to be more then just about place making. This is also why I am so critical about the implementation of theories such as Transit oriented design, form based codes and New Urbanism.

While these theories produce great senses of places when implemented correctly, they often have a negative effect on the existing community. On top of that these places often become insular developments with poor social connections with its neighboring communities. So while millions of dollars are raised, financed, taxed and levied for a new planning infused development of improved spaces and buildings, did the social quality of the people who live in the community improve as well? These are questions that planners should always ask of themselves and questions this blog will always pose about new and old planning concepts.

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