Upon Reflection, I was Wrong.

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Doe Mill Neighborhood, Chico, CA

When I was a young enthusiastic practitioner I really wanted to believe that people would understand and appreciate the practical, financial and social value of building and rebuilding walkable places. In those pre-PowerPoint days I logged a lot of hours with the dual slide carousel presentation thinking that if folks could just understand, then they would want to take action and build good places. (–Or at a minimum they would be less fearful and stubborn in their opposition to letting me build good places).

These days I think the essential task for urbanists is recovering and building trust. Trust in planners, architects, and builders had been broken long before before we showed up for some very understandable reason.  We need to cobble together what often turns out to be a conditional suspension of hostilities and turf fights. We need to hold it together long enough to frame some good choices and build some trust, before we can build anything else. The last thing I wanted to be worried about as an urban designer, developer, or builder were other people’s feelings. (Now that’s half the job). I kinda wish I was a nicer person, maybe I’d be better at this.

Civilization is hard. People get fearful and suspicious on their best day if someone is pushing to do things differently. There are plenty of reasons to distrust developers, builders, planners, Architects, Engineers, or any other profession involved in the built environment. In planning or building, attention to scale is important in building trust and providing folks with the tools to make their town better with the resources at hand.  It’s hard for people to trust something big and complicated that turns into that perverse pairing of “It’s too soon to tell” + “Well, it’s too late to do anything about it…”

One thought on “Upon Reflection, I was Wrong.

  1. Eric Kronberg March 18, 2015 / 2:18 am

    John,
    Fair and important statements. I find it is helpful to walk in other people’s shoes when possible. I’ve been a neighborhood zoning chair for ten years. It has given me tremendous skill and perspective at herding cats. It has also given me great insight into people’s hot buttons when presenting projects to other communities. Folk’s fears tend to be pretty similar across most of the Atlanta neighborhoods we work in. I’ll also say how easy this understanding can be missed by folks in our own office who don’t participate in a significant amount of community engagement.

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