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Thread: Planner, architect, developer - where is the middle ground?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian PlanBoston's avatar
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    Planner, architect, developer - where is the middle ground?

    After reading replies to the Gehry thread and others, I have been considering the dichotomy between the planner as reactionary policeman of development; and the architect as egotistical, questionable genius with the “perfect” city plan. I would like to add the developer into the discussion, as it is he who actually initiates development projects.

    Economics dictate development. The developer holds the cards. The typical developer’s main motive is not to create the best urban form, but to make a profit. The public planning professional is saddled with standard zoning regulations and the local political environment. The architect awaits his commission and hopes to make a statement. Who actually conceptualizes and initiates a well conceived urban form?

    I suspect most of you have careers close to one of the three traditional camps – planner / public official, architect, or developer. But where are the careers in the center of this triangulation? The proactive planner, the developer building true communities, the architect designing complements to the community instead of individual “signature” projects? What job description integrates the financial backing of the development community, the knowledge of a planner, and a solid sense of design?

    I believe that the urban places most of us advocate require thinking and action from the center of this triangle to come to fruition. How does one position himself to work from this prospective?

  2. #2
    Middle ground = citizen? How about academic?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PlanBoston
    How does one position himself to work from this prospective?
    Wisdom and strong leadership.

  4. #4
    I am not convinced that there is anyone more closely situated to the center than the town or city planning authority (and its staff planners). The true center ought to be the comprehensive (or master) plan, which ideally is adopted after consensus of all the parties to the future development of the community. The planning authority is charged with evaluating how well the developers concept and the architect's vision comply with the comp plan.

    For many reasons (some good and some not) it doesn't always work that way.
    No longer for better. No longer for worse. And certainly not for lunch.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Opening lines at a state APA conference session, by a consulting landscape arch.

    "A responsible consultant, working for a responsible client, in a community with a responsible set of codes and processes, will do the responsible thing. Be weak in one of those areas and...well, you know what you get."

    It takes all of us working together.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PlanBoston
    I believe that the urban places most of us advocate require thinking and action from the center of this triangle to come to fruition. How does one position himself to work from this prospective?
    I've been wondering about this myself. I think the first and most obvious step is to not create animosity. Differences are differences, and people do not think alike - for better or for worse. But to throw up our arms and spout idealogical tantrums seems counter-productive. No, planners aren't perfect; neither are architects, and neither, most certainly, are developers.

    If we see a situation or way of thinking that we believe should change, we have to provide a means of getting to somewhere else. To simply criticize is to just dig the hole deeper. I might be speaking more precisely here than you intended.

    I'm young, so be it, but even I have noticed that when conflicts arise there are usually bits and pieces from all sides that are true. Let's go over some relating to the interaction between the previously mentioned professions:
    • Architects and designers call Planners numbers-men and inflexible small people that desperately cling to their regulations and codes.
    • Planners are tired of seeing idiot Architects ignore practical concerns for the sake of their "art" and "reputation." As public officials they are also the ones that must stick around if and when a project goes sour and the public turns on it - they are the ones that will be on the hook to explain how things went awry.
    • City councillors are political creatures first, and realize that their constituents have desires and concerns, and regardless of whether or not those desires and concerns have merit, they will vote with them in mind.
    • Developers, tired of infighting from all the other groups, have long since decided to stop wasting time in heartfelt consultations and now most usually only take the minimum steps in order to secure their profit and move on to another committee-laden fiasco.

    I think that about sums it up. Each of these positions have elements of validity. I'm not sure there is a centre... but I think that the opposing views would be a lot easier to handle and compromise with if everyone just calmed down.

    Lately I've been wondering if a sort of grandfatherly approach to things would work out. "You say you want your front yard, but you complain every weekend of having to cut it? Are you sure this is what you want - are you open to other ideas?" "Why do you vacation to Italy or Spain? What, aside from cultural differences, does life there provide? Does it feel different to walk there? When was the last time you walked at home for an errand? Would you want to try some of these ideas out, such as zero lot lines and a focus on the street, in your area?"
    Last edited by abrowne; 11 Jul 2005 at 6:53 PM.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee
    It takes all of us working together.
    Amen to that. Humans are interdependent beings. Politicians, planners, developers, architects, citizens, academics, etc. -- it takes all of us.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian PlanBoston's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee
    "A responsible consultant, working for a responsible client, in a community with a responsible set of codes and processes, will do the responsible thing. Be weak in one of those areas and...well, you know what you get."
    This statement is both inspirational and incredibly idealistic. It assumes the “client”, or developer is truly interested in building a good urban form; and that the community’s codes and processes are above and beyond the Draconian zoning of most localities.

    The reality is that developers take the path of least resistance. They build within the zoning codes because it’s a lot easier than challenging them. Additionally, it’s much easier to finance a project that is a carbon copy of everything else out there. While some developers understand the public’s desire for richer environments, they typically respond within the existing regulatory environment; which is why junk like “lifestyle centers” is appearing in suburbia.

    Unfortunately I don’t see academics in this equation at all. They have no power to initiate or guide specific development projects. Furthermore, academia as a whole is still stuck in the planner as bureaucrat vs. architect as artistic genius (with little regard for construction economics) model. Until programs are established that integrate sound planning practices (not zoning), project design that is responsive to the surrounding built environment, and the economics of real estate development; the academic community will remain largely ineffective in changing the status quo.

    I agree that a solid Master Plan SHOULD be at the center of the three perspectives, but the political reality leaves even the most progressive thinking planning officials little room to deviate from existing regulations. Change, even when it is for the best, is politically unpopular.

    To clarify my original question, I’m wondering who is on the front lines of a change in thinking (other than the almighty DPZ, but I digress). Are there examples of non-profit development companies or enlightened private developers who are proactively working to create a better built environment? Have any planning authorities gone beyond scrapping conventional zoning and actually implemented a better model?

    While I agree that no one person or organization can effectively build a community on their own, there has to be a catalyst for well conceived development to occur.

    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    Lately I've been wondering if a sort of grandfatherly approach to things would work out. "You say you want your front yard, but you complain every weekend of having to cut it? Are you sure this is what you want - are you open to other ideas?" "Why do you vacation to Italy or Spain? What, aside from cultural differences, does life there provide? Does it feel different to walk there? When was the last time you walked at home for an errand? Would you want to try some of these ideas out, such as zero lot lines and a focus on the street, in your area?"
    This made me smile. You’re so right – sometimes I feel the public needs to be walked through things like little kids in order to understand such heady concepts. “You want the acre lot in the ‘burbs, but it means you’ll be stuck in traffic driving your kids everywhere. They will be completely dependant on you for any interaction outside your private property; and without your transporting them, they will be raised by TV and the internet. Wouldn’t it be better to live somewhere that your kids could walk to school, practice, the store, etc?”

  9. #9
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PlanBoston
    This statement is both inspirational and incredibly idealistic. I

    To clarify my original question, I’m wondering who is on the front lines of a change in thinking (other than the almighty DPZ, but I digress). Are there examples of non-profit development companies or enlightened private developers who are proactively working to create a better built environment? Have any planning authorities gone beyond scrapping conventional zoning and actually implemented a better model?
    The community development corporation where I'm interning is working to change the way things are done. It's a nonprofit that owns and operates nearly 400 rental units in the city of Lowell, and also has acted as a developer through the construction of a number of single family affordable homes. We're also trying to set an example as far as environmental friendliness goes here in Lowell, by integrating photovoltaics (solar power) into an upcoming rehab of a former school building into a mixed-use housing/community center.

    So to answer your question, yeah.... there are people trying to change the way things are done. My CDC has often had to take a confrontational attitude with the city because it feels as though the planning department has been bought out by private developers at times.

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