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Thread: Issues of the public interest in the matter of planning

  1. #1

    Issues of the public interest in the matter of planning

    What are the challenges of planning which include and excludes “the public interest”? To what extent can/should planning be centred on “the public interest”?

    I find that the public interest does nothing but cause problems in the process of decision making. The community consists of various stakeholders each with a different view and opinion. Would excluding the public interest result in a positive or negative outcome? Does the public interest even exist? If so is that saying we have universal values?

    How would planning be if we excluded the public interest?

    I am wondering what it would be like as many decisions made in my community are biased, unreasonable and uneducated. If planners are the experts, like how Doctors are the experts, why can't we just listen to the planners and not second guess them?

    Would communitys benefit from the public interest being excluded in planning issues?

    Thoughts.......?

  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I'm not going to provide a terribly deep response. And I won't get into the ethical implications of excluding the public interest. Planners are not dictators, nor should they be. They are knowledgable advisors & persuaders. The community plan is not a possession of the planner--it is a possession of the community it represents. We, as planners, translate a community's vision for itself into words & pictures, and then policies to achieve that vision. To eliminate the public & stakeholders from the process is distinctly undemocratic, as it projects a single planner's vision for the community onto the entire population. It is up to the planner to challege beliefs of stakeholder groups and persuade them to work together. It is up to the planner to advocate for good planning principles and educate the stakeholders. Good planners can accomplish both.

    One thing to keep in mind when it comes to doctors: you are not mandated or required to follow their direction. You can seek out second opinions or simply disregard altogether. My wife has slightly elevated blood pressure and the doctor prescribed medication. She decided the prescription was premature and has instead chosen to make some lifestyle changes & drink hibiscus tea. You do not mortgage your decision-making to the doctor--you simply take their opinion and apply it how you will.

    Public engagement & participation is messy. It is annoying & unproductive at times. Good planners know how to manage this mess to develop consensus & productive results. Remember, part of developing a community plan is getting people involved & engaged with their community. It is out of these plans that people find inspiration to serve on a city board or commission, or even run for City Council. It is out of these plans that someone finds inspiration to start a new community organization to address an unmet need. It is through the public process that the public takes ownership of the plan to see it through. Without that ownership, the plan is doomed to collect dust on a shelf.

    To follow your line of thinking reminds me of a favorite quote from one canterous old guy at a public meeting: "If central planning worked, we'd all be speaking Russian."

    Yes... Planners often dream of playing god with their communities. But the closest we can come to that is to become land developers. And even then, we find our convictions often subjugated by the almighty dollar.

    "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)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I like the phrase "enlightened public interest". It is often our job to enlighten the public.

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    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    I like Burbfixer's take on it above. Very well put.

    Even if we were able to do Planning without outside influences, I wouldn't do it. The mesh of interests and ideas is what creates something better. One person's view - however enlightened - wouldn't be right for the urban and suburban forms. They are collecting places of thoughts and people and cultures and ideas and because Planning for their look and function and future is required to be done by the group the group is reflected somewhat in the outcome.

    I know that's sort of "soft" analysis, but I believe in the old German geopolitical philosophy that states and political entities are organisms. They should grow organically as well, albeit guided by a group advised by the secret genius of Planners.

    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  5. #5
    This is just what I needed to hear. Thank you.

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    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    this thread reminds me of a story from early in my career (insert pipe smoke and slippers here)

    I worked on a village re-development zone - I met with folks, prepared a good solid document for town meeting - all the right planning processes and methods

    it didn't just fail on town meeting floor, it violently failed - people got up and pointed at me saying "who was the little girl that wrote this?!!" - I basically got tarred and feathered

    after town meeting, one of my Planning Board members came up to me and said "it's okay LP, you have to understand that sometimes people don't want good planning"

    in the moment, I wanted to cy and slap her but refrained and as time passed I realized it was good advice

    we forward what we feel is good planning and then we step back and let the public interest tell what's in their interest...

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I thought Robert Moses was dead!
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I thought Robert Moses was dead!
    you beat me to that comment!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Random Traffic Guy's avatar
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    I'm probably close to the end of the public interest spectrum since I think it is the planners' duty to implement the public's wishes, however boring or self-destructive they may be. The planner is the expert who advises, the people make the decisions through their elected representatives. Unfortunately the politicians often lack spines to take responsibility... A planner can attempt to educate and steer public opinion, but should not be forcing it (e.g. 3 alternatives aimed in one direction without other options, or true no-build scenarios).

    The talk of doctors reminded me of this quote from a young traffic engineer on one of the mailing lists, I thought it was pretty apt for my field since everyone is an expert on driving:
    Andrew Bossi
    My viewpoint is that traffic engineers are like transportation doctors... the citizens report the symptoms & it's up to us to diagnose it and consider treatment. Sometimes there are hypochondriacs; sometimes we dole out placebos. Sometimes a citizen can offer their own diagnosis and be spot on; sometimes they miss the root cause. With that last bit: it's up to us to explain how to treat the underlying issue; not just treat the symptoms. But through it all: a good doctor will always give at least an ear to a patient's self-diagnosis: sometimes that's a good way to discern the symptoms that the patient hasn't even noticed.
    I would only add "In the end, it is the responsibility of the patient to choose, and follow through the full course of treatment".

  10. #10
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    that is a perfect analogy RTG

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