Such a Sisyphean task this Thing we call Planning

David Renkert's picture

What is this thing we do called planning? Are we really planning or just reacting? And visioning? What's that all about? These the questions that came to mind as I was reading yesterday's - Ineffective Local Planning Efforts Push County To Seek Greater Control. And, also, how many articles like this are published on a daily basis?? If you were to add them all up from across the country, I'm sure the number wouldn't be insignificant.

To plan anything requires a goal; or at least a touchstone. With population growth, migration, changing demographics and subsequent market demands, how can an area's goal or vision be reached, especially, if it is to take 10 or 20 years to achieve the vision in the first place? How many changes will have occurred in that time frame? How would you then define success?

I don't know if there are ‘correct' answers to these questions, but it seems they are willfully ignored in many of today's conversations. The planning and development model seems to have changed from helping people create the communities they want to live in to one dominated by short-term interests. Get in, make a buck, and get out. Or if you're already living there, its wait until you can't possibly stand it any longer, then throw in the towel and to move where growth is less imminent. (Mind you, that's after cashing out for as much as possible.) Our individual self-interests operate at a different speed than what is sustainable and as long as we don't each have to pay for the consequences of our actions, then why not take all you can get?

It's the knowing, in the back of one's mind, that plans change over time and the resulting uncertainty drives people to make decisions that satisfy their short-term interests; even though it will likely cause them harm or inflict greater cost in the long run. Consider this: You invest in the stock market to build some wealth, maybe even to put your kids through college. You buy shares in a mutual fund; your fund owns stock in a homebuilding company. Now, ‘your' homebuilding company wants to put houses up in your neighborhood. But you don't want more houses there. But you do want to put your kids through school, right? Which will it be? Ok, put up the houses, I'll move somewhere else with a view. A simplistic example, sure, but it happens everyday.

There are too many disconnects and crossroads in today's planning and development to be sustainable perhaps even successful?

David Renkert is founder and president of Landpool Partners, a real estate advisory firm in San Francisco.

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