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What role should the public play in planning?

New urbanist Andres Duany is not much a fan of public participation in planning.

In speaking to metro Atlantans in two forums this past week, Duany made several references to how community involvement in the planning and design process can be a bother.

When unveiling plans for a site near Toco Hills, Duany described an existing apartment community with large trees that all would be razed to make way for his vision. Duany’s design included putting in a new grid street system with new residential development of 60 units per acre for a total 1,500 units.

In the question-and-answer period, local planner Don Broussard told Duany that he had been a member of the Congress of New Urbanism for about 10 years.

And then Broussard quoted part of the New Urbanism’s charter:

“We are committed to reestablishing the relationship between the art of building and the making of community, through citizen-based participatory planning and design.”

So Broussard asked why the residents living on the site near Toco Hills have been closed out of the planning process.

“Let me explain democracy to you,” Duany said. “Democracy is about wisdom.”

Then Duany said public participation should be a representative sample of a much larger area. “The last thing you want to do is confuse the residents of this area as community participation,” he added.

To that, Broussard asked what is the difference between that attitude and the method highway builders used when designing roads through neighborhoods.

Duany made some quip that highway builders were smarter because many graduated from Georgia Tech.

But in all seriousness, Duany showed a vulnerability in his whole planning process by not wanting to involve the community.

It’s a far cry from the much savvier process used by another urban designer — Anton Nelessen, of Princeton, N.J. Nelessen coordinated the design process of Blueprint Midtown, one that involved thousands of people from the community.

Nelessen used a visual preferences survey asking people to rank various images as negative or positive on a 20 point scale.

Not surprisingly, the community favored images of mid-rise buildings with wide, beautifully-landscaped sidewalks over surface parking lots surrounded by chain-link fences.

Then Nelessen would show people the kind of communities they preferred. That process not only helped educate the public, but it also gave the community buy-in on the design.

Perhaps now it’s Duany who could learn something about public participation.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. CKrautler February 17, 2009 1:31 pm

    While you make some important points about community participation in planning, you fail to acknowledge that the Lifelong Communities Charrette, hosted over the last nine days by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is in fact a regional charrette. We asked those who came, both to the individual workshops and the public meetings, to leave their assumptions at the door and to think on a large regional scale, not neighborhood by neighborhood. The designs that the Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) teams have developed are regional models intended to inspire change.

    The process never was intended to involved full public participation. That would have been impossible with six sites over nine days. The Lifelong Communities Charrette is one of the most complex and challenging charrettes DPZ has ever undertaken. While we did not have time nor space to have everyone who is interested in a site to be in the room as the designers worked, each site sponsor had the opportunity to include neighborhood representatives, elected officials and developers in the conversation. And the comments the public made during the Saturday preliminary design review have been considered as DPZ worked to develop their final concepts.

    As we move forward, there will be plenty of opportunities for public participation. Each site sponsor will almost certainly hold additional community meets to obtain more feedback and support for the project. Furthermore, each local government has a community outreach process as they consider permitting and rezoning to give residents a chance to weigh in on the projects.

    Until then, let’s not let a couple of NIMBYs derail a process that is attempting to do what no one else in the country has attempted – re-imagine how we build communities and neighborhoods so that older adults are not forced out of places in which they have lived for years when they no longer want to mow the lawn or if their health status changes.

    Chick Krautler
    Atlanta Regional CommissionReport

  2. Maria Saporta February 17, 2009 2:37 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. I never expected the Lifelong Communities charrette to be a full-fledged public participation endeavor.
    My post was more in reaction to some of the general comments Andres Duany made about public participation in the planning process.
    Please know that I agree with much of Duany’s observations about urban America and the future of development.
    But I strongly believe public participation plays a vital role in helping shape our communities.
    From my perspective, the Atlanta Regional Commission has always strived to include the public in its planning process. And I commend y’all for continuing that in the next stages of the Lifelong Communities design efforts.


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