So I am working on becoming a planner. Why? I harp on about oil prices, sustainability, economies of scale, schlocky strip mall development….but what I am really interested in is land use. Yes I want us as people to use the land the we are endowed with as if it means something. What we build today, where we build it, why we build it, and how we build it, should be a testament to how important that land is.
Land has more value than the money we pay for it. Some lands are productive forests, suitable agriculturally, provide ecosystem services by cleaning air and water through bio/geo/chemical processes. Some would claim you can put a price tag on it, however I don’t think they have considered time into the opportunity cost equation and the length of time it takes for ecosystems to repair themselves, which in turn costs us.
We are going to develop land. I hear rumblings that we (the world) will build the same amount of buildings in the next 50 years as have been built in all of human history. Our population isn’t going to stop growing for a few more years, our current housing stock needs to grow or in some cases be rejuvenated, in others it needs to be replaced. This I understand.
So what is a society, that values a land owners right to freely do with his or her land what they want, to do? How do we also take into account the externalities and opportunity costs of making one decision vs. another? Thinking in terms of the greater system that everything rides on, what seems apparent is that we all have a stake in determining land use decisions. How do we do this without inhibiting someone’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Tough questions for planners moving forward.
What I think we are coming to collectively realize is that our development patterns of the last 60-70 years have ignored the true cost of the land. We have been able to ignore these costs largely due to cheap fuel prices and a ‘ponzi-scheme’ financial system that encourages suburban growth (for more on this, see Strong Towns) at the detriment of both the land and municipal finances.
I hope we can figure out how to grow meaningful places, that can truly account for the value of land. I like wild places where we can visit, but leave nothing behind. I like to think that we can solve much of our fuel needs on sustainably harvested forests close by. I like farms close by, that grow healthy local food. I also like solvent cities that grew in a way that reflected the notion that we need to be sustainable, both environmentally and fiscally.
I think the suburban experiment is coming to a close. It is time to re-localize and densify our cities and towns. It will be a tough change to make, resulting in quite a paradigm shift….but I think it is possible, or I wouldn’t have become a planner.