Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Role of the Planner

Here's a portion of a commentary from Sept 11 posting at "An Affair With Urban Policy". The same questions apply in Sarasota.

The other night I posted a photo - showing some small graffiti on a storefront window that said "Do We Really Need More Condos?" It's a provoking question - condo development seems to be a strong part of residential markets in a number of urban areas.

...The more I thought about the issue, the more I began wondering what exactly the role of the planner is in the current condo-crazed market?

From what I've come to understand (fully admitting that I'm not a planner), the role of Planning is to determine the most ideal/needed land uses within specified areas. I also believe that Planning is most effective when it can be applied to specific sites (that is applying the theoretical to the specific).

Unfortunately, I'm far too removed from the institution of Planning to fully understand whether the field is still actively involved in actually planning areas (that is, considering all the range of potential - and needed - land uses for specifice sites) that are undergoing rapid condo redevelopment, or, if it is merely letting market pressures (whether actual, or perceived) drive all new land uses.

That is:

  • Are planners really planning areas, or are they simply letting areas develop themselves?
  • Are the usual social amenities (e.g. parks, commericial services, other social institutions such as schools and community spaces) still being integrated into developing areas, or is the market completely leading the way and the role of the planner simply to make sure the sufficient parking is attached to a site?
  • Would a planning staff still say "no" to a new condo development proposal, based on an area need for other uses on a site?

My guess is that it's a bit of both - although in Minneapolis the market clearly drives site use. Two of the fastest growing areas in the city (the "North Loop" and "Downtown East") are being built up (nearly) completely with developments, and plenty of ramped and underground parking, irrespective of the need for public spaces and parks.

There is mixed use development, but much of it consists of smaller bays (e.g. galleries and restaurants) that don't necessarily serve all the needs of residents - but more are indications of "cool areas".

So I don't know. Are more condos needed? The market says so... and you can't really defend saving a record store at the expense constructing a new high-rise luxury building. But does the profession still say "no" when "no" is really the right answer?

Interesting comments here. If you view the posting, be sure to check the comments on the posting.

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