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Most professions have special responsibilities to society. Physicians are expected to observe the Hippocratic oath. Police officers must apply the law fairly and refrain from abusing their power. Lawyers and accountants are expected to offer accurate advice and protect client confidentiality.
And planners? We have a special responsibility to consider all perspectives and impacts. When evaluating public policy questions most people ask selfishly, “How does this affect me?” Planners, in contrast, should ask selflessly, “How does this affect the community, particularly disadvantaged and underrepresented groups?”
I spent the last week teaching a professional development course for young planners in Buenos Aries, Argentina. It’s been a wonderful experience – my students are smart and enthusiastic, and Buenos Aries is a vibrant city with old-world charm. The buildings, plazas and old statues are beautiful and dignified, although a little frayed around the edges.
Radical idea. It’s called Universal Design. Or social activism.
Should Segways be allowed on sidewalks? Should all bicycles travel only in designated bike lanes? Should motorized scooters be treated as if they are wheelchairs? Where should rollerblades, skateboards, adult tricycles, bikes with trailers or kick scooters travel? The world of personal mobility is expanding. And so is the pressure in favor of alternatives to the grandaddy of personal mobility -- the automobile. In spite of its importance as image-maker and status-definer, a car is just a method for getting a person from Point A to Point B. Moving people -- that’s its basic purpose.
“Getting” Universal Design creates an “Aha!” moment. Experiencing Universal Design creates a “Wow!” moment.
On the Sunday that the April Nor’easter dumped the second highest rainfall ever recorded in Central Park, I waded to the New York Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center. I wasn’t there to see the mighty floor show of preening cars inside the convention center, I went to see the Taxi ’07 exhibition outside on the wind and rain swept lower roadway. For anyone who has tried to hail a taxi in a Manhattan rainstorm, visiting the exhibition on that Sunday raised a familiar feeling: nearly a dozen yellow taxis in sight, not one of which was going to pick me up and whisk me away to dry land.
In spite of my sense that we are heading pell mell into the gloom of global warming, catastrophic conflict and hopeless mediocrity, I’ve noticed a hopeful trend. Beauty and happiness have been rehabilitated from irrelevant to necessary. It may not be an avalanche, but proponents are showing up in unusual places: a book by an environmental conservationist, another by an historian philosopher, and a Mother Jones article about the economy. Can this portend a trend?