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Thread: Criticism of showing bad development in comp plans

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Criticism of showing bad development in comp plans

    Before I started working for my current employer, comp plans tended to reflect the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" mindset of the agency. They glossed over a community's negative points, and the plan elements -- mostly inventory -- were either neutral or boosterish in tone.

    In drafting comp plans, I've been criticized for including photos of local businesses as examples of bad development, or the result of poor planning. The "always say good things" philosophy of the past seems to bubble back up to the surface.



    Question: do you think it is inappropriate to show examples of bad development from a community in their comprehensive plan, when it includes an identifying element such as a business name, street name, or something else?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Yes, the always positive thing also bothers me in completing comp plans. So i tend to include more "positive" features of a community but, when we want to change the design of a community, we try to use examples of bad designs are not call out it is a bad design, but rather point to the specific use such as a blank wall or in this example, avoiding the use of a conventional strip mall. The strip mall is in the community, and people who live there clearly can tell that it is a part of their community.
    Last edited by Raf; 29 Apr 2008 at 5:41 PM.
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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Yeah, we put in the ugly but try to avoid business names to the extent possible. When we do show the ugly, we try to do a before/after based on whatever we are recommending. In doing this, we get out that the old way is unacceptable, but immediately turn people back towards how things should be. It seems to work well for us.

    If you don't include any negative about the community, you are not telling the complete story. An assessment of current conditions is exactly that... all conditions, not just the pretty/positive ones. Otherwise, you are doing the community a disservice.

    I've even been known to go after other public agencies in a comp plan. In the economic development chapter of one, I was critical of school performance in the area and stated that it was likely impacting the view of the city by potential employers. I also took shots at the district in the land use chapter for locating schools in a heavily auto-centric manner that required virtually all students to bus or ride with someone, poor site design, etc.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I have usually included photos of "undesireable" development taken in another community, although one client wanted to include pictures taken within the neighborhood. Another approach I will use is to use a drawing showing existing and potentially correct changes.
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    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    A professor advised me to always use examples of poor housing conditions or less-than-desireable built environments from the town down the road from the subject community. She explained some picture she used in a local housing inventory of a house in poor condition, and a city councilman owned it and rented it out as a landlord. They pointed this out and she was up on the dais going, "Uhhh . . . . er . . . . ".

    Maybe we need a national repository of pictures of bad examples that have been fixed, demolished, etc, so the planner knows they can present them to a local audience and not offend anyone.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    I think the posting of bad development photos in a small town document falls under the making enemies faster than necessary category. As planners we often upset people with the truth and our well reasoned arguments. Once we stack up enough unintentional enemies it is time to freshen the resume.

    Posting pictures of a "workin man's" place of business just gets working locals, who may have a suprising amount of clout, pissed off at you unnecessarily. They don't need no smartin from some college punk who aint from around here no how.

    IF you have to post those kind of photos it might be best to drive TWO towns away and spend the day shooting photos.
    el Guapo is a former 20 year +/- urban planner (just like you) who thought becoming an attorney was a good life choice.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    I strongly endorse using examples from out of town. El Guapo's reasoning is excellent. When you use local examples you also might alienate someone who was thinking about upgrading and being a supporter of the plan.

    In doing design standards I used bad photos from many places, all of which were not Otisville. We did take a few examples of notoriously bad buildings in Otisville and show how they could have been made to comply with what became our design standards. But these were the buildings that sparked the demand for design standards.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    I agree with El Guapo's sentiment. I wouldn't appreciate my business being labelled ugly in my local government's comp plan. Maybe you can get away with a McDonald's but definitely not a local business.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I've used photos from other communities that do not border the town's planning jurisdiction (no sense in making enemies with your neighbors either).

    I have also used photos of "bad" development, overlaid some semi-transparent trash paper and sketched the buildings in markers or pencil (either leave out or add detail), scan them and photoshop them. I've used this more for design guidelines, but I think it can work for comp plans.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 05 Feb 2008 at 9:56 AM. Reason: double reply

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    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    I agree with nrschmid's approach. In general, generic images work just as well without pissing people off. We did show some "bad" developments in our Comp Plan but they are mostly older buildings, condos with many owners, and we highlighed things about the buildings that were bad, rather than criticizing the whole thing.

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    A different approach is to have the committee members themselves take the photos, log them with a good/bad tag, and what about the photo subject is good or bad design (subjective as it is). Tell them they can take photos of anywhere. I've gotten photos of places all over the country. However my experience has been that about 80% end up being from the local community since almost everyone waits until the afternoon before the meeting to take the photos. It provides for a good basis of what the community values in terms of design and gives you a library of images to include both good and bad in the document.

    As an added bonus with this approach, you can employ the always popular "Wasn't Me!" defense and deflection when one of the good ol' boys steps forward. Of course you may end up throwing 80-year old committee member Mabel under the bus instead...

  12. #12
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Agree with el Guapo 100%. I know its tempting to use local photos, but it tends to get personal by singling out a local business(es) and embarassing them.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Yes, I think it is inappropriate to show examples of bad development that is identifiable in your own town. This can generate ill will and enemies that are counter-productive to improving the situation.

    I think publishing pictures of examples of bad planning from annonymous areas in a website link in an appendix to the code is a good way to get citizens thinking about what bad development is. That way pictures can be informally changed anytime without having to change the code. One could also add text or drawings to modify the pictures showing exactly what elements are bad, and what could have been done to avoid or improve the bad development.

    People really gradually "accepted" increasing sign clutter until pictures showing examples of really bad sign clutter started showing up in newspapers - then there was public support for sign limits. Same could happen for poor development. People sort of "accept" poor development, because they don't really know how to define it or what can be done about it.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Rem's avatar
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    We don't have the same comp plan system you guys have but we do have a descriptive level of planning instrument called a "development control plan" where good ("acceptable") and bad solutions to design problems are typically described.

    I think eG has made some valid points - we have avoided the making enemies problem by using diagrams instead of photographs. It may not have the same impact as a photo, but then again does reduce the risk of an different, unintended impact (ie. a knuckle sandwich).

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Agree with all--don't make enemies, use out of town, more gemeric pictures if they will be memorialzed in comp plan.

    But I ask an altermative questions--is it ok to do the "good design bad design" discussion using local examples as part of the run-up to the comp plan--ie. as part of the community discission?

    Enemies can still be made in this manner.

  16. #16
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    What if ... that local small business is owned by someone who doesn't live in the community, and isn't otherwise involved in community affairs? I remember that in "the town next door" of years past, it was found that most of the mechanical commercial eyesores along the city's major commercial corridor weren't owned or managed by residents of the city.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I'd still say no. You still need the buy-in of that property owner. Telling them publicly that their building is an eyesore is not going to help.

    A caveat - Sometimes the public participation process brings out comments about a specific property. As these come from the public, it is acceptable to inclde them. They should, however, be found in the section of the report that documents public comments.
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  18. #18
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    I agree with EG that this is definitely a bad idea in a small town. But, in cities, where you have lots of examples of development (good and bad)- what's the harm? Who cares if you tick off a few property owners? (Seriously though, are they really going to read the comp. plan?)

    Sure there are extenuating circumstances, as Dan alluded to. For instance, I wouldn't pick on popular community establishments (i.e. the dumpy ice cream shack that is regularly patronized by little leaguers). And as Cardinal said, if you're looking for compliance from a particular property, then you should leave them out too. Try to limit your selections to lost causes as best you can.

    Off-topic:
    If I did this exercise in my current position most of the examples I'd have are government buildings and public housing complexes. Which would be great because I wouldn't think twice about using them
    Last edited by mendelman; 11 Feb 2008 at 4:43 PM. Reason: grmr

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