Mainely Planning

Why plan for an uncertain future? Our world is changing in ways that we can hardly comprehend. The planning we have been engaged in over the last 100 years, is geared to a world with abundant energy, a stable climate, and a dwindling natural resource endowment that is reliant on cheap energy for extraction. That world is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Oil price spikes due to supply/demand and geopolitical concerns, water shortages (Google Lake Mead, Central Valley, CA or the Ogallala Aquifer for details), and soil depletion are just a few of the problems we face. As we move forward, the notion that we can continue with business as usual (BAU) is not going to sustain us.

Thinking creatively and making difficult decisions will test our abilities, push our cultural boundaries and hopefully shape a world where these uncomfortable realities can be dealt with in an equitable and meaningful manner. I write about things I see, think, and work on as I transition from being a planning student into the world of planning. I am neither a technological optimist, thinking we can invent our way out of all our problems, nor a doomer, believing in returning to a world much like pre-industrial times. I believe that our creativity combined with the lessons from the past will be instrumental tools for laying the foundation for the path forward. Some of my ideas may seem radical, others are just based on common sense and keen observations.


Links of Note


Mainely Rural
The Old Pine Tree
Strong Towns
Project For Public Spaces
Streets Blog
Cap'n Transit Rides Again
Human Transit
Pedestrian Observations
Urbanophile
The Broken Sidewalk
Maine Architecture
The Vigorous North
Depot Redux
Reason and Rail
Car Free Maine
Walk Around Portland




Transportation for America State Fact Sheets


A Reason to Plan



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Posts tagged "Systems Thinking"

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.