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Thread: Urban Bias?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Urban Bias?

    The topic was raised in another post and it is one I have encountered many times. I like rural areas. A love small cities (under 50,000) that are not someone else's suburb. Small town life, etc. But does our profession have a bias toward the big?

    Do the professional journals tend to cover big city isses more than little city or rural issues?

    How often do you see articles featuring small towns and rural areas in magazines such as Planning or Urban Land?

    Are the techniques and tools of planning/economic development designed for larger cities and urban areas more than small communities?

    For example, Wisconsin has a model TND ordinance that was created after a law was passed requiring all cities over 12,000 in population to have such an ordinance. The problem is that it does not consider the reality of small markets. It requires the TND district to have a commercial area. In most cases, the market could not support it, and often, the development would already be within walking distance of the existing downtown.

    Do our college and university courses overwhelmingly teach with urban area emphases?

    I can remember very little discussion of rural issues.

    Your thoughts?

  2. #2
    I think there is an urban bias in the news and in the Planning profession. In school we learned about the plans for Washington DC, Savannah, GA, Chicago, New York, Paris, etc. but never about successful and influential small town plans. Considering that most plannners work for smaller unknown (at least nationally) municipalities, I do think an important element of planning is overlooked.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Yes, Mike, I think there is a definite urban bias in the planning media coverage, social services media coverage and land development related media coverage. Why? I suppose at an individual story level, they relate to a broad market and that translates into higher sales.

    Its been a number of years since my undergraduate days, but I don't recall a heavy urban bias at my alma mater.

    The Wisconsin [UNFUNDED MANDATE] TND Ordinance is a disaster. Ironic, the legislature mandated that every community over 12,500 in population have this or a similar ordinance adopted, but does not require the community to implement it or zone land to accommodate TND development. The model TND ordinance is completely impractical to implement in my community.

  4. #4
    We adopted the TND as an alternative under our Planned Unit Development section of the ordinance. The screwy thing is, we are a fully built out community and here we had to adopt an ordinance allowing something that will never be built.

    Plus, we have a few neighborhoods that already could fall into the state's definiation of a Traditional Neighborhood.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jmf's avatar
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    Re: Urban Bias?

    Originally posted by Michael Stumpf
    Are the techniques and tools of planning/economic development designed for larger cities and urban areas more than small communities?

    Do our college and university courses overwhelmingly teach with urban area emphases?
    My thesis certainly argued yes on both these points. In my Rural Studio course one of the proposals for the community was for a tree-planting program. I tried to point out to my classmates (I had the advantage of knowing the community in question very well) that we visited in February when a lot of the trees would have no foliage but they persevered unitl they arrived in july to present the final document and they saw that a lack of trees wasn't really an issue!

    I think a lot of the problems stem from the idea of expertise. Who is the expert...well the planner is because they went to school for x years and have studied public particpation and urban design etc.....or wait is the resident the expert, they know the history and pattern of development in the community. I think often the planner becomes a facilitator as much as being a planner.

    Granted most universities are removed from the rural landscape and students often don't have the means to travel to rural areas to do research etc. I think those of us who had the opportunity to do workterms in rural environments have a better understanding of the issues in rural/small town areas from local politics to the many hats a planner must wear.....but I think we have already had that discussion!

    BTW...TND stands for ???..... it's probably pretty obvious but I'm drawing a blank.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Re: Re: Urban Bias?

    Originally posted by jmf



    BTW...TND stands for ???..... it's probably pretty obvious but I'm drawing a blank.
    Traditional Neighborhood Development

  7. #7
    Member Glomer's avatar
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    I agree........there is definitley an urban bias in our field.

    SIM City, for instance,............as much as I love the game, what is its ultimate goal???? You must grow,grow,grow, sprawl, sprawl, sprawl, until you hate your city and have it blown up by aliens.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian jmf's avatar
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    Re: Re: Re: Urban Bias?

    Originally posted by bturk


    Traditional Neighborhood Development

    duh!!!!! Sorry... just entered survey #447 the mind is going a little numb.

    In NS, planners employed by the provincial government used to write plans for the rural areas that didn;t have planners on staff, most of these documents are pretty much the same. They used to run into some big problems since they were perceived (and I guess they did) as parachuting into the community for meetings and that is about it. One community completely revolted and refused to adopt the planning strategy. Since then, the prov. govt has pulled out of planning except in areas of provincial interest (drinking water, agricultural lands) and most municipalities are part of a planning commission or have hired their own planner.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Could it be that the "bias" is a natural consequence of the fact that when you install a great new ordinance in a small rural town, and then nothing happens. No new people moving in. No new subdivisions, developments, retail, industry, schools, etc. No way to see if your plan works!

    Borrrrrring!

    So you gravitate to the larger cities, that are growing, or if not exactly growing, they have some change-over and renewal. Aha! Urban areas!

    Besides most larger cities have already screwed things up pretty badly, because they have been growing for a long time, and we see that they really need our help. We have something to talk about. Something to try a solution on. And when we try a new zoning clause, and by gosh, someone comes in and thinks thats the way it was supposed to be all along!

    Success! We are hooked on the big city! Urbana!

    "Bias" is not necessarily bad in that view.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Boring? I would argue that you are far more likely to see the impact of your work in a small community. Small cities have growth, renewal, park and recreation needs, environmental concerns, new commerce and industry and etc., just as big cities do. But perhaps they look at such things with a different perspective.

    Rural areas can also have entirely different issues from urban areas (same topics, different concerns). Agricultural patterns and practices, economic development, transportation, tourism, the environment, population growth or depopulation, etc. I personally think some of these challenges are more interesting than some urban challenges.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    "I would argue that you are far more likely to see the impact of your work in a small community. "

    And on occasion, small communities can be innovative. A good idea is often easier to implement (yeah, there is parochial thinking at times, but same with the big city). The results are more visable. And since it takes less time to see the impacts, a program or concept can be monitored/measured. Smaller communities can be incubators of ideas.

    And to argue Streck for a moment, we often have a smaller scale and a slower pace; but that is so we can concentrate on one lot, one building, one concept.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian jmf's avatar
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    I think in some smaller communities growth is not the issue. Decline is. In planning schools we are always assuming the community is growing but how do we plan for decline ie loss of fisheries; loss of traditional industries - coal mining; iron ore production; outmigration of young people? People in these communities are used to having certain services nearby but declining population leads more and more businesses to move or close. How do we, as planners, help to keep a community vital?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    A couple weeks ago I read a story in the paper of a school closing in northern Wisconsin. About two dozen kids. Grades K-12. Two rooms, two teachers. 15-20 miles from the other schools in the district. How are services to be provided in rural areas? If this example is difficult, consider a location in eastern Montana or perhaps Western Oklahoma. Are kids to spend two hours each way to school? Or will we have boarding schools.

    Imagine me, Dan, PlannerGirl or our other Cyburbians trying to find a date in such a place, especially one into latex. Now that would be a planning crisis.

  14. #14
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    The following quotes from an article on a report prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayors that measures the economic contribution of the nation's cities illustrates one reason for bias: money tends to attract attention.

    "The report was intended to show that U.S. cities are a vital part of the U.S. economy, accounting for more than 80 percent of the nation's output. The report comes at a time when Congress is determining where to spend federal money, and cities are vying with rural regions, seaport areas and other geographic interests for assistance for a variety of issues, such as transportation, homeland security and job creation.

    ``The importance of this is to demonstrate to Congress that cities are the real engine of growth in the United States,'' said xxxxxxxx.

    The report points out that metropolitan areas account for more than four-fifths of the nation's jobs, income and economic output. It also said that of 319 metropolitan areas, 269 had growing economies last year, and growth in 135 of those topped the national average.

    The report points out that metro areas are home to huge concentrations of labor, transportation, telecommunications and other vital needs for the U.S. economy.

    If metropolitan areas were countries, 48 of the 100 largest economies in the world would be U.S. cities -- even such second-tier cities as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Denver and Newark, N.J.

    New York City, which suffered a huge economic setback last year as a result of the World Trade Center attacks, advanced one spot, overtaking South Korea and becoming the 13th largest economy in the world, the report said."

  15. #15

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    There was a definite urban bias in planning when I started. I wanted to be a planner and ended up doing my graduate work in a policy studies program because the planning education available in 1973 was totally (at least as far I could learn) focused on metro areas. Since then a handful of academic planning programs (Appalachian State, Kansas State, Eastern Washington) have tried to counter that bias. So, it is at least possible to get a planning degree where you will have exposure to rural issues, trends, etc.

    APA has followed the same history, but is now going rapidly back to an urban, or perhaps suburban, bias. When I first started, it was an urban organization (two urban organizations: ASPO and AIP). The demographic shifts of the '70's brought attention to the rural landscape, including formation of the STAR Division of APA. For a while I was pleased with the coverage given rural issues. The Smart Growth fad has pretty much ended that. For one thing it is so clearly snobbish (if my growth is smart, yours must be dumb!). How a whole profession of people who at least profess to have skills in communicating with the public could have adopted this phrase is beyond my ability to imagine, much less understand. Also, the model legislative package is just silly -- rural people know that state legislatures are among the least progressive institutions in our society, and the more likely to deprive local governments of the power to plan effectively than to enable them.

    Overall, I think planning is inevitably an urban-biased profession. National demographics ensure that. BUT that there are many opportunties to do good work in rural communities!

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