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.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The paradox of planning and politics

Left, "One City" transit plan diagram, Toronto.  From "Transit plan: Dramatic OneCity proposal floated by Stintz, DeBaeremaeker" in the Toronto Star.

One of the things that makes land use and trnasportation planning very difficult is that at the end of the day, the planners don't make the decisions.

That's not necessarily a bad thing. 

After all, elected officials represent the people, the citizens, and the people are the ones who ultimately are on hock for paying for the infrastructure.

The problem has to do with the vicissitudes of ideology, and the fact that successive administrations tend to interpret previous initiatives out of their ideological frame, so that if you are a Republican such as Bob Ehrlich, Governor of Maryland from 2003-2006, you think that smart growth initiatives by your Democratic predecessor are ideologically bankrupt, but if you are Democrat Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, you think that the superlative smart growth initiatives by your Republican predecessor, as it happens, Mitt Romney, are ideologically bankrupt too, so you junk them.

It's not about politics as much as it is about the right thing to do.  (E.g. "Romneycare" vs. "Obamacare.")

Similarly, the Toronto Mayor Rob Ford can try to junk the "Transit City" initiative of his predecessor, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty junked the "Main Street" commercial district revitalization initiative of his predecessor, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is threatening to vote against funding their portion of heavy rail beyond Dulles Airport to serve their county, which would scuttle the extension, and DC's Mayor Gray has different ideas (Walmart, St. Elizabeths East, etc.) for the city's economic development priorities, etc.

As someone vying for government contracts, lining up financing, etc., I understand a lot better now these issues, and why some banks are leery of financing bicycle sharing system "leases" because a bike is a lot more difficult to understand as an asset class compared to a car or a bus.

 Transit City billboard promotion, Toronto Transit Commission
But I do have to say that I am shocked about the most recent developments for transit planning in Toronto.  Previous Mayor David Miller's brilliant "Transit City" initiative was junked in favor of a wee little subway extension proposal--subways rather than light rail because Mayor Rob Ford didn't want rail to run in mixed traffic, because that would hinder automobility.

After about 18 months of craziness, the Toronto City Council asserted its authority and said the Mayor couldn't unilaterally junk an approved plan, even though he had been abetted for a time by the Province of Ontario, fired the director of the Toronto Transit Commission, and fired many of the appointees to the TTC, so he could do so with hand-picked appointees.

Yesterday, the chair of the TTC, Karen Stintz, a "conservative" councillor who was "radicalized" on transit issues after being put under fire throughout the changes in policy, released a transit plan for the city that may even be broader and deeper than the previous Transit City plan.

That's not usually the result of the see-saw between administrations and ideology, but it ends up being a good thing, provided that the Toronto City Council approves the measure, which it will consider next month.

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