What Does Good Planning Look Like?
Posted: August 17, 2012
This is more than an academic question. Planners often use tools like visual preference surveys to help citizens determine what they’d like their communities to look like. The surveys typically show different versions of a streetscape, downtown signs, parking options, or types of housing, and ask participants to pick the ones they prefer.
We’ve all seen examples of poor planning, such as a fast food restaurant next to single family home, or a heavy manufacturer next to an elementary school. But what about good planning: how do we know it when we see it? The answer is in part a matter of personal preference. Some people like an urban environment while others prefer wide-open spaces. Here are some principles borrowed from the smart growth movement that can help us identify good planning:
- Is there a mix of housing available for families with different incomes?
- Can residents walk to recreation? Shopping? Worship? Work?
- Does the community feel unique or distinctive – what sets it apart?
- Is there open space? Do you see trees, waterways, farms, meadows, vistas – or any other sort of natural beauty?
- What about the built environment? Are there historical sites, attractive urban places, inviting spots for walking, biking, or just sitting?
A great deal depends on the specific situation. Few existing communities can meet all of these and other smart growth principles. Yet there’s something about a well-planned community that catches our eye.
Here’s a simple way to test your own appreciation for good planning, and to get a sense of your own preferences for your community: use your camera. Take lots of pictures. Whenever you see a community and think ‘that would be a nice place to live’, take a few photographs. Whether you’re traveling to the next county or thousands of miles from home, grab some shots.
Take some time to look at what you’ve collected. Do you see a pattern – are there types of development that show up over and over in your photographs? Are there aspects that could be incorporated into your own community?
Maybe it’s time to get involved in your community’s planning efforts as an elected official, an appointed member of the Planning Commission, or an interested citizen. Show up at municipal meetings and share what you’ve discovered. Start a conversation about what good planning looks like to you. Perhaps you’ll even have an opportunity to show off your photographs.