Urban Planners, Butt Out!

The authors of one study assert that vibrant cities can't be engineered by the application of "nuanced criteria"; however, this has very much become the paradigm of urban planning.

1 minute read

October 15, 2008, 9:00 AM PDT

By Judy Chang


According to conventional wisdom, cities are preferable to suburbs (or not) because they accommodate more of both.

"However," writes the co-author of the report, University of Toronto doctoral candidate Zack Taylor, "prescribing density numbers alone with the expectation that certain outcomes will occur may prove ineffective, because density numbers alone do not capture the full range of variables that make up urban form."

"'The areas we now admire,' explains Toronto architect and co-author John van Nostrand, 'are pre-planning areas. But older areas didn't always offer access to parks and open space. Then, when planning hit in the 1960s, we rejected the unplanned city for the fully planned community. I think now we're way overregulated. There are so many rules. What we need is an approach that allows for changes.'

In other words, planning may be the problem, but it's also the solution.

Or is it? Van Nostrand argues that when it comes to planning, less is more. The trick, he insists, is not to be overly proscriptive, but to allow for maximum flexibility.

'Real life is always right,' he says. 'It's planning that's wrong.'"

Saturday, October 11, 2008 in Toronto Star

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