I hate to say it, but planning is so… well… boring.
This isn’t to say planners themselves are boring people — though I’ve known a few who could put a meth-fueled gorilla to sleep with their talk of tax-increment financing and the fine points of inter-agency coordination.
No, planning seems to have wrapped around it a cloak of social invisibility. Maybe this is due to a lack of perceived cool-ness by the glitterati, or an unwillingness among practitioners to engage in a bit of socially relevant boat-rocking — but regardless, the profession has all the avant garde qualities of a meatloaf dinner at grandma’s.
Why can’t we be like architects?
Architecture, as a profession, is a bit different. Architects carry a certain social cache — people lie about being architects.
I don’t know anyone who lies about being a planner.
Yet Architecture, perhaps because of its cool-ness, has a personality problem. There’s a huge discrepancy between what actually goes on in an architecture firm, and what society thinks is going on. The public thinks most architects design beautiful buildings, have impeccable taste, live in gorgeous homes, travel to exotic locations, and make tremendous amounts of money (or, if they’re “poor” it’s because they’re choosing to suffer for their art). The reality is a quite a bit less glamorous; with careers choked with project schedules, pay applications, specification editing, and a myriad of management issues that leave most architects wishing they had switched majors when they were in undergraduate school.
But… there is a certain amount of success that comes with perseverance, and those architects who do succeed feel a kind of cultural pressure to justify their success by sponsoring and supporting more socially relevant work. So we see efforts like Sam “Sambo” Mockbee’s Rural Studio at Auburn University’s School of Architecture. The Rural Studio dedicates itself to providing architecture students a hands-on working experience as they design and build community-oriented projects in several poor counties in rural Alabama.
Also, there’s the DesignBuildBLUFF program at the University of Utah’s College of Architecture. DesignBuildBLUFF provides an opportunity for architecture students to design and build sustainable architecture on a Navajo reservation; with an eye towards graduating more compassionate architects.
And then there’s Cameron Sinclair’s mothership of compassion, Architecture for Humanity. Architecture for Humanity serves as a type of clearing house that connects professional architects, designers, and contractors with communities in need; taking the position that “design is the ultimate renewable resource.”
What we in the planning profession tend to lack are comparable outlets for our creative energies. Where are the university-based community-oriented efforts? Where are the connections to our under-served populations?
Is Tactical Urbanism cool?
Maybe this is why Tactical Urbanism is so popular in planning programs these days. Is it an effort to make planning as relevant as the planning students, and social activists, feel it should to be?
And maybe… just maybe… worth lying about at a dinner party?
To be clear, there are precious few academics pushing the subject of what Jaime Lerner calls Urban Acupuncture — and even fewer professional planners (lest they risk violating their AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct)
B2. We shall not accept an assignment from a client or employer when the services to be performed involve conduct that we know to be illegal or in violation of these rules.
B25. We shall neither deliberately, nor with reckless indifference, commit any wrongful act, whether or not specified in the Rules of Conduct, that reflects adversely on our professional fitness.
(AICP, Our Rules of Conduct)
But, for many reasons, it’s hard to draw equivalencies at the level of the profession between fully-supported academic programs like the Rural Studio and grassroots efforts like Tactical Urbanism. And, unfortunately for most planning students, such efforts are rarely led or initiated by professional planners.
But here’s the point — do most of us really need lessons on being a decent human being?
Isn’t planning, with all its homely charm, simply the act of being decent to each other?
So yeah, I’m rockin’ the boring.
Or while we’re working on the next bit of hacktivism with Code for America, building an app that’ll help kids catch their school bus or make it easier for folks to find the closest healthy food store, let’s discuss better ways to craft a long-range regional transportation plan. Maybe, we’ll push for broad municipal participatory budgeting, or work on a new mixed-use neighborhood plan.
- This Impeccably Designed $20,000 House Could Soon Be Yours (fastcoexist.com)
- Medellin reborn: Life after Escobar violence (cnn.com)
- Design Like You Give a Damn (architectureforhumanity.org)
- New York Nerds Sift Citi Bike Data to Solve Availability (bloomberg.com)
- Summer of Smart: A San Francisco Experiment in Digital Democracy (atomicbomb.typepad.com)
- CJ Bryan: Why I’m Coding for America (codeforamerica.org)