Last week we discussed the visioning process and it’s importance in planning the future of communities. Visions and the visioning process allow planners and residents decide on what the future of a community should be and how that goal can be accomplished. This could mean attempting to keep the community as it is going into the future or finding ways to redefine the community for the better. It depends on what the residents of the community want for their future.

There are many ways to create plans for the future of a community but the most effective seem to involve interactive design and community involvement. To understand a community and where it’s going in the future, the residents should be involved and be able to give their input. This link leads to the EPA’s page on the planning process and focuses on the creation of a vision statement. According to the EPA, creating a vision statement is necessary in the planning process and provides the basis for positive change. A big part of the EPA’s guide to vision statements is community involvement. It allows for the collection of diverse viewpoints, discovering the residents interests, and defining the assets of the community. Once the residents have expressed their view of the community and where they want it to head, scenarios can be developed that can lead to a comprehensive vision that incorporates the interests of the community into a plan for the future.

A common problem with planning for the future is the difficulty in making the vision that the residents have for the community come true. I found this non-profit organization that is focused on increasing the openness with which public agencies operate to improve the efficiency of planning. By promoting public agencies from different areas to share their findings and processes, good ideas could be shared more easily and communities could be improved more efficiently. Opening up more public data would also promote more community involvement in the planning process.


Arts and Culture in Planning and Development

In this week’s class a guest lecture was given regarding the effects of arts and cultures on urban planning and development. Several points were made, including the positives and negatives of development driven by the need to meet or restore artistic qualities to a city, as well as an example of the work done by the Roanoke Arts Commission. However, there are some key overarching topics related to cultural-driven development that could have been expanded upon from a more generic standpoint. From the social, economic, environmental and communal objectives to the many types of professionals and planning goals needed, it is safe to say that this type of development can provide sustainable, long lasting and enriching spaces if executed well with all aspects considered.

There are several connections to make between planning to arts and culture. According to the American Planning Association these connections can be broken down into four major categories: social, economic, environmental and communal (found here). The social aspects of this type of planning seek to develop, preserve of facilitate certain aspects of a public space. This would include efforts to retain the cultural significance of a place in order for the community to gain a greater understanding of this place. There is also the possibility that this place could connect diverse groups of people and break down barriers that once existed because of the under-developed space. Practical examples of this could be community festivals, arts and cultural education programs. Of course though, development of a place involves some economic and business considerations behind it. With the objective of development for the arts and culture in mind, certain goals need to be met from an economic standpoint of which include expanding opportunities for community members, quality, affordable housing, incentives for new businesses and residents and an infrastructure for public transportation. The use of public art within certain streetscapes to divert pedestrian traffic to typically low-traffic areas in order to increase the exposure certain businesses receive is one strategy that can be used. Another aspect of this connection between development, culture and arts lies in the environmental considerations for development. Arts and culture are often a result of an environment or are developed because of one, so it is important to be able to identify and preserve current areas that facilitate creativity, but also develop areas that lack this quality. Preservation of parks through zero-waste practices at festivals could be one strategy for environmental development in a community. Additionally construction of gathering spaces along public transportation routes could provide areas for artists to gather and be inspired. Finally, the communal aspect of this development is actually rather simple in that instilling a sense of pride and stewardship because of the areas recently developed artistic qualities would connect the development to the arts and cultures

The question still remains: At what point does a city earn the label of an “artistic city”. According to a survey conducted by ArtBistro, a sub-website of, the top 25 cities for designers and artists were evaluated based on a set of criteria that includes, either directly or indirectly, the four connections made by the American Planning Association (survey found here). Growth rates, average salaries, cost of living, commute time, unemployment and the rate which unemployment is increasing were considered. There are primarily aspects of economic and social aspects immediately seen here, but environmental connections could be inferred by commute time. This would mean that the public transportation infrastructure  is well developed and possible environmental considerations like efficiency, interaction and use of public space in conjunction with structure needed for public transportation

Planning and Development for the arts requires careful consideration for many aspects of a public space, requiring a balance between  the economic and social implication of space to create an optimal balance for development in the business aspect of art as well as the purely aesthetic side of art and culture.

Links to articles used:

Top 25 Cities for Designers and Artists

The Role of Arts and Culture in Planning Practice

Shrinking Cities

This week in class we had two guest speakers, Joe Schilling and Stephen Goldsmith, who touched on the topics of urban ecology and sustainability with a focus on shrinking cities. The main point made in the lecture on urban ecology was that we as people are managing natural systems no matter what we’re doing. Mr. Goldsmith made the point that we are all engaged managers and the systems under our control range from the natural landscape to the buildings and roads we have constructed. Joe Schilling’s presentation was related to the topic of urban ecology however it focused more on sustainability and how it offers a way for Older Industrial Cities (OIC’s) or shrinking cities to be reimagined. A shrinking city is one that is currently experiencing a sustainable and sustained decrease in population and one whose physical footprint is larger than its current needs. Some modern cities that qualify as shrinking cities are Baltimore, Pittsburg and Buffalo and all three are experiencing emerging sustainability planning efforts in order to transform the city and ensure it remains large and prosperous. Some examples of how these cities are planning for a sustainable future are to implement sustainable or “green” building practices, to start reclaiming vacant property and to reconfigure the layout of neighborhoods.

The first source is a link to a New York Times article about Flint, Michigan and the idea to control the decline of this city by condensing the population as well as stores and services into a few viable areas by demolishing entire blocks and whole neighborhoods. The city is dealing with a $15 million budget deficit as well as an endless population decline and its leaders are looking for ways to combat this decline. Due to the fact that in 75 of Flint’s neighborhoods, 900 houses have been acquired through foreclosure in the past year, the city has now resorted to planned shrinkage as its primary way to keep the decline of the city in check and ensure that it continues to thrive.

The second source is a link to a policy guide on how to plan for sustainability that has been adopted in New York. The guide first goes over the indications and contributing factors of unsustainability some of which are deforestation, suburban sprawl and the loss of agricultural land and open space. The guide goes on to define Land use actions, Housing actions, transportation actions and economic development actions that can be taken to help ensure that the city’s future will be more sustainable. There are many objectives given to show how this will be accomplished including a reduced dependence on fossil fuels, encouragement of activities that reduce encroachment upon nature, as well as meeting human needs fairly and efficiently.

Link 1:

Link 2:

Digital Cities

In week 9 of our class, we talked about digital cities. There are many differnet types of these cities. These digital cities include  connected cities, wired cities, smart cities, digital cities, information cities, E-cities, and virtual cities.

Digital cities refer to a connected community that combines broadband communications infrastructures, flexible, service oriented computing infrastructure based on open industry standards. The top digital city was named to be  Honolulu, Hawaii. Among other tops cities were Seattle, Washington and Baltimore, Maryland. An article I found describes the way everything is being changed.

Sustainable Living

In week 9 of our class, we talked about sustainable living. How can we become not just environmentally friendly but also economically friendly as well? That has always been the downside whenever countries wanted to be more economically friendly. It is why developing countries like India and China have such low environmental standards. The costs of green technologies outweighs their need to progress.

How can regions like the European Union and North America increase their efforts to keep pace with environmental standards like the rest of the world? In The New York Times article, Jame Kanter responds to that question with one simple answer: Cold hard cash. “How much?” one would ask. European ministers said in one of their conditions, developed countries would be paying more than $140 billion dollars a year. Of course with that kind of money comes terms and restrictions but offering countries that much money can be a huge burden especially during todays economic situation. Also, converting an entire country to be more environmentally aware doesn’t happened overnight, which means it could be many years for them to catch up to the rest of the world but it’s a start.

Many of the developing countries see being “green” as a luxury that they simply cannot afford but that is not the case. Governments can issue policies that taxes factories to create incentives promoting more environmentally friendlier practices. Raghbendra Jha and John Whalley wrote in their comprehensive report, The Environmental Regime in Developing Countries, discussing the negative effects from pollution in developing countries. In table 7.2, is discusses the negative economic impact from environmental costs. In China, soil erosion, deforestation and land degradation, water shortages, and destruction of wetlands accounts for 3.8-7.3 percent of China’s GDP. Health and productivity losses from pollution in cities accounts for 1.7-2.5 of China’s GDP. More can be read in the report.

When the costs of pollution is almost ten percent of a country as big as China’s GDP, is sustainable living still a luxury?



Public Transportation

In class this week, Ralph Buehler delivered a lecture discussing the differences in the use and availability of public transportation in the United States and abroad, specifically in Germany. The main point of emphasis was that usage rate of public transportation in the United States is well below the rest of the developed world. This has many consequences such as high pollution rates and dependence on foreign oil. Americans dependence on automobile transportation is difficult to change. Americans travel further daily than most Europeans, gas and registration fees are lower, and parking is generally more readily available. This combined with the fact that our public transportation infrastructure is behind many other country’s results in a country that relies on personal automobiles as it’s primary mode of transportation.

This link leads to a study done by National Geographic on public transportation usage in developed countries. The report found that only 5% of Americans use public transportation daily, 7% use it at least once a week and 61% never use it. Internationally, 25% of people surveyed use public transportation daily and 41% use it at least once a week. Germans are more than five times more likely to use public transportation and Russians are over ten times more likely. Americans were also in last place when surveyed on their likelihood to walk or bike to a destination. The number one reason for Americans not using public transportation was lack of availability. The lack of public transportation along with urban sprawl has lead to an unsustainable transportation system.

The following link leads to a U.S. News report that discusses what’s being done in America to reverse this trend along with the top 10 cities for public transportation. To improve the public transportation systems in America, President Obama called for $8 Billion to go towards high speed rail as part of a six year $53 Billion plan. Obama recognizes the importance of public transportation and the benefits it provides. In the last 30 years the number of public transportation systems in America has increased from from 1,044 in 1980 to 7,700 in 2009. These systems have made great returns on their investments to their areas and have reduce transportation costs for commuters by providing an alternative to driving.


The Benefits of Public Space

The issues of public space and its various uses are essential and necessary topics on a survey of the ideas behind a “city”. Public space takes on many forms, many uses and many roles. These areas in a city are often what define its image, as the objective of these places is to provide a gathering space for the masses, thereby ingraining the image of the space into the populace. Additionally they also provide a means of sustaining the social, economic, and ecological reason for the city. In the United States the formation of public spaces has been a relatively steady development as its necessity has been recognized as time has gone by. One interesting period to note though is the flood of public spaces created as a result of The New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt, the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps.

During The New Deal unemployment rates soared and millions were left without work. With a nation in need of jobs, it seemed appropriate to take the opportunity to create spaces that embody exactly what the nation needed. Robert D. Leighninger wrote in his essay “Cultural Infrastructure: The Legacy of New Deal Public Space” that “Almost all of the projects that the PWA, WPA, and CCC undertook were places where people of all ages, classes, and races might come together” (The document can be found here)The projects completed during The New Deal included places such as parks, museums, gardens and playgrounds. These efforts clearly demonstrate one of the definitions of public space, an accessible space. This definition describes public space as accessible to anybody and reflects a notion of basic equality, social freedom of circulation and anonymity. Furthermore, on top of the need to provide work for a considerable amount of people Roosevelt headed a diverse population and party, introducing many new elements of diversity among his ranks. Addressing the practical issue of work, while also providing a place to reinforce the diverse foundation that led to his presidency it seemed that providing urban stability and national unity was a wise choice. One example of the success in using  public spaces to bring the diverse masses together in a safe environment was noted in Central Park. Leighninger wrote that two historians claimed shortly after World War II that “…many New Yorkers apparently came to view Central Park as relatively safe as the grew more comfortable with people of different backgrounds and came to accept that black and Puerto Rican teenagers, gay men, as such, were not intruders there”

Unfortunately though, the mentality towards public urban spaces has changed as a result of key lifestyles changes in the United States since The New Deal era. The rise of consumerism has driven the population back into their homes, the rise of technology and the ease at which information is accessed has given society even less of a reason to venture far beyond their immediate surroundings. As a result of this decline is the use of public spaces, another interesting issue has arisen with lawmaker’s adherence to the actual definition of public space and how this definition has changed over time, causing problems for a certain part of the population. In the published report “Illegal to Be Homeless: The Criminalization of Homelessness in the United States” (found here) it is argued that the idea of public spaces like streets, sidewalks, and parks as “common property” that can be used by anyone no longer exists as a results of private property owners. The zoning of these once public spaces as Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) exclude those with no access to private property from public property. Essentially, all homeless people. In the report it is also cited that the reason used to justify exclusion from these “public” spaces is that homeless people could possibly be criminals and threats to public safety. This then raises the mind-boggling question of where the line is drawn on the true definition of “public” The strict approach would say that any being with his or her own humanity should be allowed to use these public spaces. Realistically however, a public space occupied solely by the homeless in a sense loses some quality of a “public space”.

Public spaces are inherently going to change over time in their characteristics and image portrayed to the public. As seen in the opinions on Central Park as a once safe place, it can also be said that at one point it may have also been a very unsafe place. With this in mind, the changes brought about by modernization, consumerism, and The New Deal with regards to public space have all uniquely shaped society’s view on them. This evolving perception and usage of these spaces is perhaps where their brilliance lies, and as the physical form remains constant society adapts these forms to its needs at any given time.

Links to sources:

Cultural Infrastructure: The Legacy of New Deal Public Space

Illegal to Be Homeless 2004 Report