Design to Plan, Plan to Design

Last night I moderated a public session on behalf of the University of Alberta City Region Studies Centre.  The speakers were George Crandall and Don Arambula, and architect and landscape architect from the firm Crandall Arambula out of Portland, Oregon.  The topic – Regional Transportation: Lessons from Portland.

Regional planning is regional planning, wherever it occurs.  And there are some lessons for Alberta’s Capital Region and the government of Alberta.  The lessons I drew out for Capital Region planning as well as the Land Use Framework:

  1. There is a place for provincial government to ensure that local governments are  not only cooperating, but ensuring that they are producing a plan that is useful in the end.  This means what is “useful” needs to be well defined.
  2. Creating a growth management plan is not about just creating a plan, it is about creating ownership for a plan.  This occurs by working with the public.  Not just polls and workshops, but engagement where people roll up their sleeves and have an impact on the outcome.  Particularly if this process marries the interests of builders and developers (ie practicality) and citizens.
  3. Mechanisms to make a regional plan a reality are essential.  It is not enough to have a big plan and leave it up to local governments to implement.  Sample mechanism – public transportation authority, regional waste disposal strategies, regional land use design expectations and authority.
  4. Clear implementation plans and commitments are as much as the plan itself.  This implementation must factor in design front and centre to ensure the product created is what is desired.  A design purpose is front and center.
  5. In times of growth, we rely on Silver Bullets, to “just get us through”.  What we need is an overall plan.  That plan, must indicate what is to happen where.
  6. A plan that indicates what will happen where clearly delineates priorities for public infrastructure investment – best use of tax dollars.
  7. A plan that indicates what will happen where offers predictability and stability for developers and builders.  This will work well for some, and not well for others, but the direction must hold.
  8. It all revolves around great political intrigue – the creation of any plan is necessarily messy.  If it isn’t tough to create, then that is a sign that it isn’t the right plan.
  9. Imagine a jigsaw puzzle – each piece comes with a shape and a piece of the picture – is that clearly articulated for each piece of the region, or will it be for each region of the province?

In the end, we must design planning processes with the above expectations.  Then we must plan to work in design to make it work.

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