A criticism we often hear is “you call yourselves planners but more often than not you react rather than anticipate things.” There’s some truth to this charge; many communities, for instance, find themselves in the position of adopting cell tower ordinances or computerized electronic message board sign regulations only after someone has a permit application in hand - didn’t see those blips approaching on the radar screen.
One of the biggest difficulties planners face is that it is nearly impossible to know beforehand what new technological innovations will occur. And not only what technological innovations will be introduced, but perhaps more importantly, which innovations the market will adopt, and if so on what scale they’ll be implemented.
The looming energy crisis will likely be the single largest issue the planning profession will be confronted with this coming generation and the associated challenges are myriad. Currently, the engines of the world’s economy are driven by fossil fuels. Those resources, however, are finite and it is only a matter of time before they approach depletion. The Big Question is what technological solutions will present themselves in the future and how can planners anticipate and adopt any sort of comprehensive policy to address the inevitable impacts that any prospective technological solution will impose on land use patterns.
In terms of devising practical planning policies in response to the looming energy crisis, three responses offer themselves:
1. Do Nothing: Continue to react. Allow market forces to work their magic. Our current de facto response offers the advantage that time and resources will not be expended devising plans to accommodate energy production and consumption technology that may never come to pass or that may never see pragmatic implementation. Anticipate no changes to current land-use patterns, make no specific allowances for alterations to existing highways, rail lines, energy production facilities or other infrastructure.
2. Plan Based on Existing Technologies: Premise future community designs upon each residence having geothermal heat/windmills/solar panel arrays etc. Either assume heavier reliance on mass transit, or continue current road construction/layouts premised on the assumption that, say, hydrogen fueled cars will become a standard and affordable mode of personal transportation.
3. Adopt Centralized Planning Model: Elevate the role of municipal and regional-level planning to a federal level, or at least partner the two more closely than is currently the case. A federal Department of Planning (naturally a planner would hold the cabinet position) could coordinate with the Department of Energy and other federal departments in devising a big top-down comprehensive land-use policy based upon whatever technological solutions the federal government chooses to support/develop/implement.