Recently political events have gotten many of people interested in being more involved in local politics. All this interest is great because the way US federalism works is that important decisions get made at the state, county and city levels. In the US we have very little centralized urban planning.That means that almost all decisions about the built environment are made at the city or county level. This isn’t ideal because a lot places (like the San Francisco Bay Area where I live) could use a more regional approach to planning, but it does mean that your one voice can be heard more clearly. So let’s talk about urban planning and why it matters.
Why planning matters
I know the subtitle of this blog says “urban planning” but planning is not just an urban issue. Planning happens across many scales — from street corners to national parks. Planning shapes the built environment – it is about who can build what, where. This has lot of impact on daily life, from how easy it is to get around, to what kinds of buildings people live in and how close the nearest grocery store is.
Planning is an equity issue. The built environment is not apolitical nor race blind. People of color frequently live in worse environments and their communities are more likely to be disrupted by new developments. And of course the build environment directly impacts how people with disabilities can move around. There is a spate of new research on how eviction can reinforce cycles of poverty. All these issues making planning a key part of social justice movements.
Planning is also an environmental issue. Good urban planning makes cities more resource efficient, more pleasant to live in, and can preserve farmlands, wildlands and waterways. Urban density means more things are closer together so cities take up less land, and getting around them is faster and easier. Planning can also address clean water as cities have to manage storm runoff.
Planning is about our values. While we may not always think about it, what we build on the ground is the result of what we, as a society, are willing to spend money on and what types of issues we prioritize. The fact that we’ve spent a lot on highways and not a lot on mass transit says something about how we value different transit modes in the US. I want to help more people think about planning this way and work to make sure that what gets put on the ground reflects what they truly value.
I look forward to answering your questions and helping make your communities better. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org