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.