Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Comprehensive planning and local planning: ain't no easy job

How to Raze a House

Charles Haar, the land use lawyer and professor most responsible for making the connections and linkages legally justifiable between zoning laws and regulations being based and generated by comprehensive planning and the so called community comprehensive or master land use plan, has died.

This piece, "An Appreciation: Charles M. Haar, Leading Advocate for Comprehensive Planning, Dies at 91," from the California Planning & Development Report, provides an overview and discussion of his work.

This helps provide some perspective on the takeout about Harriet Tregoning, DC's Director of the Office of Planning, "Urbanista! Inside Harriet Tregoning's Push to Reshape D.C." (and this related piece, "A Few Other Tregoning Bits") from the Washington City Paper.

I love talking planning theory and practice with Harriet Tregoning, but it is fair to say that the relatively pro-urban policies and practices that DC is executing--with fits and starts and so damn many fumbles--started with Mayor Williams.

It would be extremely impolitic for me to "disclose" my reaction to the story, although she is certainly a lot more politic than her peer in Montgomery County.

See "Wellington Calls on Stanley to Resign‎" from Bethesda Magazine, in reaction to this story "The Future is Looking Up: Picture yourself strolling the Champs-Élysées, visiting shops and restaurants before retiring to your high-rise above it all. Now picture yourself doing that in Montgomery County" and this paragraph from the story:

He has little patience with dissenters. Stanley goes so far as to accuse them of being “rich, white women…spreading fear.” He says they stalk his appearances before community groups, sowing discord. He claims they refer to themselves as “the coven.”.

And in terms of longevity, she is working out a lot better than Peter Katz has in Arlington County--maybe Peter's "problem" is more like mine, more a focus on the long term and planning theory as much as practice, when most people are focused on the here and now. See "Arlington's heralded planning director resigns‎" from the Washington Post. (Note that I think it would be very difficult to have a planning director's job where your boss, Robert Brosnan, had been the director of the office previously--for a couple decades.)

I was surprised to see disclosure about the level of tension between the development function within the Mayor's Office (the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development/the DMPED Office) and the Office of Planning--not the tension, that's omnipresent, but the disclosure, especially concerning one's "nominal" boss, is pretty interesting.

I will say this: despite the fact that DC is one of the nation's first truly planned cities, it's very tough to run "planning" in this city (or any other place for that matter, e.g., the director of the Office of Planning in Baltimore County was canned by the new county executive, scotching any chance I had for a permanent job there...) for a number of reasons:

• the tension between the federal city and the local as it relates to planning (this is a DC-exclusive issue, all the others recounted below are universal problems for the most part);

• the fact that the "Growth Machine" runs the show and political and economic elites are united and favor a land use development agenda focused on intensification of land use--these economic elites provide the bulk of the financial support for candidates for office as well;

• note that for the most part, private real estate development is what executes and implements change, while plans and zoning regulations guide the change, they are not prescriptive in every detail;

• my sense that most elected officials don't really consider the long term impacts of what they do concerning land use planning and urban design and placemaking especially--they are focused so much on the here and now, what can be done this minute, and so they rarely consider the cumulative impact of what they do and the abject s*** that they enable;

• speaking of the "here and now" orientation of elected officials, because of this, they seem to not be too clued into the value and necessity of planning generally;

• the fact of the matter is that elected officials, the Executive (Mayor/County Executive) set the policy and tone and parameters of what government agency directors and staff can do, and for the most part agency directors and staff find that their "span of control" is extremely constrained--in other words, at the end of the day, they do what they are told to do;

• the fact that residents for the most part are focused on minimizing change to the neighborhoods, not caring very much about the long term position of the city, and working to balance short term and long term considerations, and certainly not understanding of the constraints that planning agencies work within;

• the fact that most "Americans" are imprinted by a suburban-oriented land use planning paradigm that prioritizes separation of use and the private automobile, so even when they move to the city they mostly apply suburban-appropriate ideas to decidedly urban issues.

Plus the one thing that Clarence Haar didn't get "changed" in the law concerned the degree of legal force possessed by comprehensive/master plans.

Comprehensive plans are considered precatory law: guidance only, not absolute requirements; whereas zoning regulations have the full force of law and are specific requirements, albeit with provisions for change (exceptions, variances, zoning changes--"text" and "map" amendments).

Note that in some counties in Maryland (e.g., in Baltimore County), there is an "Office of People's Counsel" (this type of position is typically in place for utility matters as it relates to the public interest) that represents citizen interests concerning the force of law possessed by the Comprehensive Plan. I don't know how widespread this practice is across the country. Certainly no such position is in place in DC
Ted Rall, 9/18/2006
Ted Rall editorial cartoon, 9/18/2006.

Labels: , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home