The Role of the Directorate: Legality in Urban Planning and Policy
To separate planning and politics is to neglect the reality of our bureaucratic system. Despite who may be on the planning board, no matter how diverse or apolitical their intentions may be, the political repercussions will forever echo their actions. Some forms of government involvement are subtle in nature, some more clearcut. However, how much should the government regulate actions of planners? How direct or indirect should these regulations be? These questions exist in any democracy, and will never have one soluble answer.
19th century planning was centralized around sanitation as cities became flooded with factories, people, and, as a byproduct, lots and lots of waste. What was once a mere public health issue became a fundamental infrastructure crisis. Architects needed to design waste systems, roads, walkways, and building layouts, while public health officials began developing laws that regulated land use. These pre-zoning regulations were decided upon nuisance cases brought to local judges, zoning laws themselves came about in the early 20th century when courts decided to implement building height limitations. Lawyer Edward Bassett aided in creating the first ever comprehensive zoning code in 1916 New York City which regulated not only design, but special districts as well*. Thus, the foundations of urban planning as a specific profession developed not only from architectural origins, but from political provenances as well. These basic codes helped to create cities that benefited the lives of its inhabitants and influenced the use of overarching aesthetics to create pleasant cityscapes that transformed previously industrially dominated localities. The city was becoming a home for the citizen, not for the manufactory.
Though some may believe modern day planning has moved beyond such basic foundational groundwork, our nation is facing a crisis. Crumbling infrastructure and outdated policy and tactics pose new threats to the public welfare, just as they did during the industrial revolution.
State governments have faced an immense amount of the financial burden resulting from this lack of surveillance, and urban citizens in particular will face increasing tax burdens in the near future if this problem is not addressed at a federal level.
Infrastructure is not the only political-planning problem municipalities are facing– as climate change continues to make itself visible (partially due to unsustainable planning practices such as suburban sprawl), there must be political regulatory action to address developers lack of design that follow Smart Growth* policies through increasing density, availability public transportation, and other sustainable practices.
Beyond the physical aspects of infrastructure, urban displacement as a result of renovation and slum clearance has become a kind of epidemic for cities across the country. There appears to be a gaping hole in policy regarding the legality of displacement, as well as a lack of resources available for those facing suburban poverty.
All of these problems, from urban displacement to sustainability, similarly to planning and politics, have overlapping qualities and repercussions. When you address public transportation, you address low income residents, environmentally conscious conveyance, and updating outdated infrastructure. However, these problems cannot be isolated to one profession if they are to be addressed in the long run.
The logical response to these converging crises would be to alter our individual and collective behavior in order to stave off disaster. It demands using less energy and raw materials. It means moving more efficiently and moving shorter distances. It means living closer together and sharing more spaces, walls, and vehicles. It means collecting experiences rather than objects.”
-Charles Montgomery, Happy City