The Whoredom of Urban Planning
Or, How to Get Your Soul Back and Start Designing Places that Matter

You can major in Urban Planning. You can get a Bachelors or a Masters degree in it, and probably after all those years you spent learning design and policy, not to mention all that debt you accrued to learn these things, you probably think that you have a pretty good idea of how to, say, lay out a town.

Perhaps you can "revitalize" a sorry-looking half-deserted Main Street. Or perhaps you believe you can create a viable Master Plan for a university campus. Or a new housing development.

But can you really do that?

If you are charged with the task of creating a plan for development, you are forced to make a number of assumptions:

+ The information you have right now about the site will still be relevant in 20...30...50 years.
+ You have the wisdom, or access to the wisdom, of what is best for the site, not just for today, but for years to come.
+ You have a deep understanding of the needs and desires of the users of the site.
+ You also have prescient knowledge of how those needs and desires will change over time.
+ You are also able to predict with uncanny accuracy the needs and desires of future users of the area.

Can we say...arrogant?

I tried finding that quote by that...mayor?...who said something like "architects are like fathers who abandon their children." I didn't find it. If you find it, will you put a link in the Comments section below?

The point is, architects, and here we're especially talking big architecture firms who sweep into a city and build this ginormous thing (usually a ginormous deconstructionist thing) that, while it may be a starchitecturist "statement" that only other architects can dichipher, the hapless townsfolk are left to suffer with the ugly, ugly thing they left behind.

It's the same kind of deal with urban planners, except instead of just one "building," they fuck up the whole city.

I get it, though. It's not about the people who will actually use the space, is it? It's about the fat douchebag who signs the checks. Your check. You got those loans to pay off. I understand. I know that if you had your druthers you'd give a shit about the people who call what you're designing home.

I think maybe the solution is for you to get your druthers.

In The Oregon Experiment, Christopher Alexander et al. counsels the higher-ups at the University of Oregon against designing a master plan for the university.

Instead, he advises them to use a series of patterns to enable the actual users to fulfill their own built environment needs, as they occur, over time.

Kind of like every traditional society in the history of ever.

To wit, also the exact opposit approach that developers use. Unless you use your druthers on them.

I also can't help but wonder, did you need to get that degree? (Cough) And the debt? (Cough, cough) Maybe you could just read A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction and put yourself out there?

 

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