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On Blogging and Planning

Blogs are emerging as important information sources in the contemporary discourse on cities and city planning.

Michael Dudley | September 9, 2008, 1pm PDT
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Blogs are emerging as important information sources in the contemporary discourse on cities and city planning.

Among the best-known include Randall Crane's Urban Planning Research which covers a wide range of topics and includes articles by guest posters; Peter Gordon's Blog on urban economics and real estate; and Randal O'Toole's Antiplanner, which is harshly critical of most public planning, advocating instead free-market approaches.

As these blogs demonstrate, blogging can afford the planner an excellent venue for exploring and discussing current issues facing cities, especially controversial "hot-button" topics that are making news in the mass media. For example, the fallout from the Kelo decision has been the topic hundreds of blog postings.

Blogs allow the planner to contribute to such debate in a very timely way, as opposed to waiting for the sometimes lengthy publication cycles of standard magazines and journals. This is of course not to say that blogs are better than print sources or should replace them, but simply that they can augment our deliberations elsewhere.

Because of the social nature of the web, postings are always subject to commentary and refutation, so they are great for initiating dialogue. And as other people can link to your postings in their own blogs and use them to fuel further deliberations, the planning blog can be a method for disseminating information to the general public that might otherwise appear only in those specialist publications.

It's important however to consider the blog not only for its external audiences, but for one's own internal thought processes. Given the rapid pace of change in cities and the natural environment -- and the responses in the profession and the larger culture to both -- the blog can help the planner to keep track of, understand and more importantly mentally integrate these changes. By synthesizing perspectives from multiple sources and combining them with one's own thoughts and observations the planner can become much more intimately aware of trends and challenges than would be possible from simply reading articles passively.

The blog post can therefore be much more than just one's own writing – it becomes a window to other information sources and opinions. I sometimes refer students seeking assistance with their research to my own postings if they're relevant to their topics, simply for the quality of the links I've documented.

I have also found that blog entries can stimulate my work in other professional writing: I've often adapted postings or passages from them into other more formal research and projects. They can also become a bridge to mainstream publishing venues: postings can easily be re-worked for submissions to the local newspaper or other publications. Bear in mind though that such external publishing may not result in increased traffic to your own blog, as readers are accessing your work elsewhere.

There are institutional applications too. Some municipal planning departments are using blogs to keep citizens informed about local planning news, events and services, as well linking to local municipal information sources and databases. For some examples, check out the Montgomery County (Maryland) planning department blog, The Home Stretch and the Town of Dennis (Massachussetts) Planning Department Weblog.

Such planning blogs can become a forum for users not employed by the city to post their own content, such as guest editorials on planning issues. In this way – and with appropriate monitoring to ensure civil discourse – the planning department blog can contribute significantly to local planning debates.

As a form of communication with colleagues and the public; an attractive environment for citizen engagement; a way to track trends and issues; and as a resource for the planning educator – the blog can become an important and exciting part of the planner's professional toolkit.

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