Leave Planning To Planners

In this column, APA Executive Director Paul Farmer expounds on the other professions that are inappropriately making planning decisions, and discusses how New Urbanists are close to repeating the mistakes of other modernist movements.

"Architects cannot claim to be planners on the basis of their architectural knowledge and competencies. The systems of human settlement, from neighborhoods to cities and regions, are far different from building systems. Traffic engineering, to take another example, has some overlap with transportation planning, but it also requires vastly different abilities. Traffic engineers are not transportation planners, and transportation planners are not traffic engineers. We need to respect the core competencies of allied professions, just as we expect them to respect ours.

The planning profession has its own mistakes to account for. Early in my planning career, wetlands were considered a development opportunity. The plan for the Hackensack Meadowlands in New Jersey won numerous awards. Would we honor it today, given the haphazard building that has taken place where natural systems should have been protected?

In New Orleans, developing wetlands had disastrous results in the Lakeview neighborhood, where greedy developers and politicians joined to give the city its share of suburban sprawl. Engineers were of little help, and local planners knew too little about the land itself - or about the results of dewatering. In fact, planning as a profession in Louisiana was for many decades embryonic at best.

Today, new urbanism is dangerously close to repeating the mistakes of the earlier modernists. Its advocates in the post-Katrina Gulf South have often been irresponsible in neglecting environmental factors in their promotion of replacement housing in vulnerable areas. And Seaside, the movement's icon, should never have been built in its high-hazard location."

Note: This article is only available for members of the American Planning Association.

Full Story: Change, Best Practices, and Our Profession



Architects And Planners Both Needed

The New Urbanists generally started as architects rather than as planners. As a result, they tend to think about how it actually feels to be in the communities they design, which is why they design places where it feels good to be.

Planners think about abstractions. They map where each land use should be, rather than thinking about how places will feel. As a result, they know which environmentally sensitive and hazardous locations should be protected, but they don't design places where it feels good to be.

Both are needed.

Charles Siegel

Are you kidding me? Planners

Are you kidding me? Planners better take a long hard look at planning in the USA for the past 60 years or so.

Granted, architects have their own sins to atone for. But the planning profession on the whole have no basis to crow about their 'expertise'.

Its a Good Thing!

I suppose all professions have their blunders. Even medicine has had to mature from a standard of superstition and quackery to the sophisticated art and science of healing that we now know. CM, for the certified planner and the profession in general, is a good thing and illustrates the ongoing vitality of what we do at age 100.

My experience in working collaboratively in a variety of settings with the other building related professions (engineers, architects, developers and landscape architects) has confirmed for me over and over, the unique and indispensable contribution of the planning profession to the health, welfare, sustainability and livability of communities. Where planning is practiced well, the community functions well.

The core competencies and knowledge required to build and care for communities at the plan level, while related to that of our colleagues, are without question, differentiated, but while we may inform and learn from one another, ultimately, as Paul Farmer says, "planning should be left to planners". Certificate Maintenance is a bold and proper step in that direction. Given the issues of the day, the opportunity for the profession to be more effective and better equipped to produce livable and sustainable environments is vast. Happy Birthday..

Bob Barber, AICP

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Farmer..

The planning profession does need to assert itself, though tactfully. We have to remember that we were established in architecture and engineering and matured through the social sciences. Planners are unique in the ability to synthesize these fields in to coherent, positive action for our communities - or at least they should be able to so. A planning degree does not grant one a monopoly on this ability. I've known architects and engineers that can be good planners because they can draw on these other relevant fields and do good planning work as a result.

Continuing education is a good and necessary thing for planners too. But I think we should take a nod from the architects and engineers and not make continuing education a money making scheme for the national organization. I also think that because of our unique nature and diversity, we shouldn't be indirectly discouraging planners from obtaining continuing education from the allied fields by regulating our professional development with a bureaucratic and expensive system that favors the APA.

Frank O. Miller, AICP

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