Thursday, September 16, 2010

Planning in a Recession

In the world of government city planning there has always been a boom and a bust cycle to our work. It’s usually seasonal. There’s usually a lull in activity during the summer and in the fall, work generally picks up again. During the holidays, some developers try to submit the most complicated development plans in hopes something slips by due to holiday vacations. And in the spring, we are usually busy as developers try to get their plans approved so they can begin construction in the summer and fall. Now in between these seasonal times, there maybe some legislation that creates a flurry of new development.

But during a recession, every season feels like the summer. Typical development works slowly trickles in. Developers are no longer calling everyday to set up a meeting to meet with you. The public is no longer calling to find out more information about a project in their neighborhood. There are very few walk-ins for people who want to expand their property or business. Exiting mega projects going through the development process slow down to a crawl or just go away and may never come back.

Everything becomes mind crushingly slow. The lack of work leads to a lack of excitement, which leads to a lack of creative thinking or any thinking at all. Work becomes a dreary fog of inactivity. Now don’t get me wrong, there are always things we can do for the community without the development process. We can and have created community plans to help shape current and future land management of neighborhoods. We still meet community groups on the regular to address any and all their needs. But to be honest, even the community’s depressed, more so than us actually.

And it’s not hard to blame the community for being a little down and not want to meet to help make their community better when they are struggling to keep their own homes afloat. Two years ago, community members would call frequently for planners to address their concerns. Now were calling them and they tell us, we’ll get back to you. Who knows, maybe they’re right to put us on hold. In the short term, there’s no money local government can really throw behind communities because of well…the recession. I guess the community gets tired of us saying, “well when things get better…” Which is true, people really should plan for the future when things are down to be prepared when things pick back up but we end up being a wet blanket. It is pretty awesome to generate all this excitement for a community meeting and getting everyone pumped for projects that will happen in…2020…maybe. God bless the folks that continue to stay and don’t walk out of the meetings right then and there.

Usually in the past when things were slow on a job, mid-level planners like myself would start to have a wondering eye. Being on the East Coast gives you almost a dozen municipalities large or small to look at for employment. But in a recession there are a dozen municipalities large and small that are not hiring. And when you look out at the financial states of other places that have furloughs, layoffs and work stoppages, you thank your lucky stars you are still employed. But in the mean time, the recession has sort of trapped us in place, in time and pay scale.

I don’t know what the future holds for us planners, developers, architects, landscape architects and those involved in development. I know things can not and should not return to the level of irresponsible growth and speculation of just three years ago. But I hope things do pick up to take everyone out us this fog.

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