The problems with planners??

Discussion in 'Environmental and Health Professionals Interested' started by Michaelangelica, Aug 28, 2011.

  1. Michaelangelica

    Michaelangelica Junior Member

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    At the Southdowns Green Fair, Permaculture mag headed over to the Woodland Classroom to have a chat and question time with the eco-builder and woodsman Ben Law. We all know that his local planning officers were so troublesome that it took years to get permission to build his off-grid round wood timber framed house... But has his attitude changed since then?

    http://www.permaculture.co.uk/video...what-he-really-thinks-about-planning-officers
     
  2. Callum EHO

    Callum EHO Junior Member

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    Planners tend to be the deliverers of bad politics and the confused human condition in many ways. They lag a long way behind because of their heavy mundane workload in many cases, they don't get much time to think and it does not matter what decision they make they will upset at least one and often many parties.

    They often get exposed to the worst aspects of humanity and it effects they way they think - they get abused and can not trust people any more because of this being breached so often in the past. Its pretty sad and does not give our communities much hope when in fact these people should be forward thinking and facilitating better things in the community.

    The "Garbage Warriors" movie was another great demonstration of bad planners in action as well as that laters coverage on this site of the US planner that banned the vegetable garden in the house front yard.

    I could not view the video yet - will have to do that at home.
     
  3. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day All

    As 'planner-in-residence' (surely not the only one?) here in our happy little PRI Village, and because I need a break from writing my thesis, I decided to share some thoughts with you all about what it's like to be a planner.

    But before we start, please watch the video 'What does Ben Law really think of planning officers?', as I think it will help you to better understand that planning (in all of its infinite guises) is a process, and never the end point.

    I assume that the comments made above by our good friend and fellow Village inhabitant, Callum, are in reference to Statutory Planners; a particular breed of planner whose usual haunt is behind the counter at the local planning office. Writing of which, during my two years behind the counter in one of my various roles as a Planning Cadet, I was exposed to both the best and the worst of humanity (unfortunately, the latter arrived at a ratio of about 100:1 when compared with the former). Thinly veiled death threats were a weekly occurrence - I kid you not! To coin the popular phrase: 'Hell hath no greater fury than a women (or man) scorned... [by her (or his) local planning officer]'. More about the life of a Stat Planner, later. Firstly, I think we should explore what planning is, before we try to determine what a planner does, yes?

    A good (coherent/succinct) definition (in a permaculture-esque context) of land use planning comes via our good friends at FAO-UN:

    Land-use planning is the systematic assessment of land and water potential, alternatives for land use and economic and social conditions in order to select and adopt the best land-use options. Its purpose is to select and put into practice those land uses that will best meet the needs of the people while safeguarding resources for the future. The driving force in planning is the need for change, the need for improved management or the need for a quite different pattern of land use dictated by changing circumstances.

    So, in a FAO-UN sense, a planner works in 'the system' (a 'system' of universal proportions, mind you) as an 'assessor' of ecological, economic and social (some, myself included, would add cultural) potentialities in order to help 'select' and 'adopt' the best possible actions in order to secure the best possible, most sustainable outcomes. Of course, that's all a bit dry and uninteresting, so here's another go at what planners do (warning: some might find the language offensive):

    So you want to be a city planner?

    OK, so that was a bit cheeky, but it does convey some of the issues planners face every day in their respective roles. Of course, planning is a 'broad church' so to speak. There is an infinite role that planning (and by default, planners) plays in our (those in affluent societies, at least) lives everyday.

    Nowadays (that makes me sound like an old bloke, and if the grey hair is anything to go by...), land use planners come in all different shapes, sizes and colours: Urban Planner, Rural Planner, Environmental Planner (the three broad fields I have qualifications in), Social Planner, Cultural Planner, Remote Area Planner (the three I'm working on at becoming at expert in), Transport Planner, etc., etc., etc. Of course, of the latter (for example) there are many sub-planning fields: Ports and Rivers Planner, Airport Planner (I have a young colleague who aspires to be one of these), and even the good old-fashioned Highways Planner (I have a good friend who is one of these).

    Wherever humans touch the ground, sky or water, there is bound to be some form of planning taking place. The ancient cities of the world (for example), all started life in the mind of a planner. Sure, they may not have been recognised as such back then, but 'planned' entities they indeed helped shape.

    In more 'modern' times, the work of people such as Ebenezer Howard, Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, Patrick Geddes, just to name a few from a cast of a thousand brilliant minds, is an example of where today's planning draws its inspiration.

    And the future? Planning is a dynamic, political process. The very nature of planning means that it can never stand still. Planning (and by default, planners) must always look to the future, and borrow only the 'good' from the past, if our actions are to be considered worthy by the seventh generation. It is often said: 'It's easy to be a bad doctor, because you can bury your mistakes. But it's harder to be a planner, because your mistakes are visible for a very long time to come'.

    For a taste of what planning is, and what planners do today, as described for the benefit of aspiring undergraduate planners: check out our website.

    Well, I hope you have enjoyed this tiny slice of 'life as a planner' as much as I have in bringing it to you.

    Please fell free to ask questions/leave comments, and I will endeavour to get back to you as time permits. I must get back to the thesis...

    Yours in a planned world (for the betterment of all), Markos
     
  4. TheDirtSurgeon

    TheDirtSurgeon Junior Member

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    Thank you, Markos, for your perspective as a planner. I wish we could fill America's planning departments with your like. That is to say, people with the wisdom to inspect things they haven't seen before, and determine their merit.

    But alas. It is not so in my country.

    Have you ever seen the film, "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"?

    Know that one alien species that runs on bureaucracy?

    It's worse than that.

    If you could take all the truly useless people from society... I don't mean the mentally retarded or the truly stupid. They are good for some things. Sorting mail. Slave labor. Spending tax money.

    But those people who are just smart enough to pass college entrance exams, and graduate with a "C" average. They are the truly useless, because while they are mentally suited for nothing better than picking up trash or raking asphalt, they think they're too good for manual labor because a committee of nitwits awarded them a college degree.

    Those are the people who end up working in government. And in planning departments.

    Now, to point out... I am a builder of things. My father was a builder. His father was a builder. And his father. And so on.

    We know more about this shit than you do. There. I said it. And it's the gods' honest truth. But we have to put up with you. We have to tolerate some snotty-nosed, just graduated, barely-capable-of-tying-his-shoes, nitwit... telling professional builders... how to build. (And I don't mean "you" personally, Markos... just planners in general.)

    Do you see where the conflict lies? I can understand, easily, why you get death threats. You are the one standing in the way of people living and making a life for themselves; not me.

    I could fill a 20-page thread with horror stories of retarded planners, commissioners, engineers. I could also do another 10 pages on bad builders; that's true. I don't by any means think everyone in my trade is good. I really do understand the need for regulations, building codes, zoning laws. I respect them, but I wish for more flexibility and innovation.

    I hope my rant doesn't offend you. You're here; I think you will bring positive changes. I post this in hopes that you will understand where the people on the other side of your counter might be coming from.
     
  5. Lumbuck Thornton

    Lumbuck Thornton Junior Member

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    Sometimes it is the management and so called "decision makers" above the managers that are pulling the strings that also might be part of the problem.
    "Shooting the Messenger" often does not help but many planners don't exactly help their situation. There are some bigger planning issues society has to come to terms with.

    Maybe we need a "Permaculture Planning Scheme" to give them a proper set of rules, foundered on natural rules that are better to interpret !

    The Permaculturetron I am designing would appear to break all the rules set by society now but it appears that in the future society may not have any choice but to apply more sensible rules and regulations.
     
  6. TheDirtSurgeon

    TheDirtSurgeon Junior Member

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    That's very true. (I'm afraid I offended Markos so as not to reply, and that wasn't the intent.)

    It's really the system... or "system" if you prefer. Planners do not want to step outside the neat little box the code book creates, because if anything goes haywire, they're out of a job.

    We have created a situation (at least in the USA) where risk does not carry even a chance of reward, for government employees. The planner who takes a chance and loses, loses his job, pension, life. He takes a chance and wins, he probably still loses his job, or at best, gains absolutely nothing.

    I do understand the position they're stuck in, and the reluctance to change. That's why I don't murder them.

    I just wish it was different.
     
  7. Lumbuck Thornton

    Lumbuck Thornton Junior Member

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    Somehow we have to start setting better examples so the planners who understand more about long term systems and societies get to make cases to support permaculture out there. There are a few of us in the system but it is heavy going. Then there are those who should undermine what ever flexibility and opportunity given to prove something new.
    Lets try and get some positive outcomes and support improvements.
     
  8. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day TDS and LT

    In my OP, I discussed the life of the statutory planner - who one is, and what one does. However, I did not elaborate why one does the things one does. So here goes:

    In most parts of the world, the use and or development of land is governed by a set of laws. These laws, are generally cobbled together and refined over many years, and often appear as a code (as is the case of the US), or a scheme or plan (vis a vis Australia). They are the product of our so-called democratic process, or in the case of less democratic regions, they are the product of the ruling forces. Either way, the governing body (through its legislative process) makes theses laws, and the only way to change them, is through the duly elected persons one instills in office via the ballot box. That is, of course, if one is 'lucky' enough to live in a region where democracy is the end goal. In short, politicians have the power (supposedly given to them by the people) to invoke/revoke land use and development provisions (laws); statutory planner merely try to implement them, the best way they can. It isn't perfect, nor is it pretty, but that's the way it is until we change the system (and hopefully, for the better).

    Having said that, next time you come face-to-face with your local government (county, municipality, etc.) statutory planner, and she/he responds to your proposal with, "I'm sorry, but that (insert proposal) is counter to our planning laws", remember that it is the lawmakers that are putting halt to your plans, and not the planners.

    Of course, there are some very good reasons why planning laws came about. One only has to study the history of urban development to realise that urban life 100-years ago was very different to what it is today. Take for example the use of land for industrial purposes. Historically, it was the practice for abattoirs, tanning factories and blood/bonemeal works to co-locate. This made good sense. Livestock came in one end, and out the other as three different products: meat, hide/leather, and fertiliser. However, as was also the practice of the day, these places of industrial activity were often sited on the banks of the river - where else was one to expel one's waste product? Also, workers for these large-scale facilities were generally housed in dwellings close to their place of employment. Once again, this made good sense, as the motor car was not yet a mainstream commodity, and save for some inner-city modes of transit (streetcars, etc), employees had to walk to and from work. Thus, early urban environments were generally walkable. But with this level of convenience (and what we understand of it today, sustainability) came a certain degree of annoyance - smell, smoke, noise, effluent, etc. - today we call it pollution. So, eventually, laws were passed to separate these lands uses (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.), in an attempt minimise the land use conflict.

    Today, an example of where land use laws might come to the fore is in suburbia. Say you are living quite happily in your three-storey, six-car garaged, McMansion, and all of a sudden you awake one morning at 5am to the sound of screaming cut-off saws - yes, the builders have arrived. Later, you pop your head over your standard 1.8m (6') high back fence, and spy some builders busily constructing a building of some description. Upon asking said builders what it is that they are constructing, you are told that it is to be... an abattoir. Of course, it's not likely to happen, due to the fact that planning law would (most likely, we are talking hypotheticals here) prohibit it.

    So, with these above (very brief) scenarios, one might begin to understand why it is that planning laws came about. Generally speaking, planning law tries to limit the worst excesses of urban (and sometimes, rural) land use conflict. Take a look at your local planning code/scheme. Generally there is a section at the front devoted to the purpose of the legislation. I checked out one from Eastern Colorado recently, the El Paso County Land Development Code, and sure enough, right at the beginning, there is a section titled 'purpose':

    This Code is adopted for the purpose of preserving and improving the public health, safety and general welfare of the citizens and businesses of El Paso County. More specifically, it is the purpose of this Code to:

    Implement the Master Plan and related elements.

    Promote predictability, consistency and efficiency in the land development process for residents, neighborhoods, businesses, agricultural and development interests.

    Ensure appropriate opportunities for participation and involvement in the development process by all affected parties.

    Be fair to all by ensuring due consideration is given to protecting private property rights, the rights of individuals and the rights of the community as a whole.

    Guide the future growth and development of the County in accordance with the Master Plan.

    Guide public and private policy and action in order to provide adequate and efficient transportation, water, sewerage, schools, parks, playgrounds, recreation, and other public requirements and facilities.

    Establish reasonable standards of design and procedures for subdivision and resubdivision in order to further the orderly layout and use of land and to ensure proper legal descriptions and monumenting of subdivided land.

    Ensure that public facilities and services are available concurrent with development and will have a sufficient capacity to serve the proposed subdivision, and, in so doing, ensure that current residents will be required to bear no more than their fair share of the cost of providing the facilities and services by requiring the developer to pay fees, furnish land, or establish mitigation measures to cover the development's fair share of the capital facilities needs generated by the development.

    Prevent the pollution of air, streams, and ponds; assure the adequacy of drainage facilities; and encourage the wise use and management of natural and biological resources throughout the County in order to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the community and the value of the land.


    As I mentioned earlier, it is not pretty. As one can see from the above example, it is often full of contradiction, but there it is. If you don't like it, then set about changing it.

    Of course, in our part of the world, we are not immune from planning law either. Nor are we lacking in 'purpose' statements. Here's an extract from an Eastern Victorian example, the Wellington Planning Scheme:

    Purpose:

    To provide a clear and consistent framework within which decisions about the use and development of land can be made.

    To express state, regional, local and community expectations for areas and land uses.

    To provide for the implementation of State, regional and local policies affecting land use and development.


    Objectives:

    To provide for the fair, orderly, economic and sustainable use and development of land.

    To provide for the protection of natural and man-made resources and the maintenance of ecological processes and genetic diversity.

    To secure a pleasant, efficient and safe working, living and recreational environment for all Victorians and visitors to Victoria.

    To conserve and enhance those buildings, areas or other places which are of scientific, aesthetic, architectural or historical interest, or otherwise of special cultural value.

    To protect public utilities and other assets and enable the orderly provision and coordination of public utilities and other facilities for the benefit of the community.

    To facilitate development in accordance with the objectives set out in the points above. To balance the present and future interests of all Victorians.


    Once again, it would appear to be filled with contradiction - how does one 'balance' the present and future interests of all people?

    In sum, and generally speaking, statutory planners are motivated by the desire to help make the world a better place. However, the tools with which they are afforded in order to do so are too often blunt, broken and/or totally unsuited to the job. Therefore, it is up to all of us to sharpen, repair, make suitable these tools (planning laws) if we wish to truly succeed in making life better. Permaculture is just one way of doing this. Whatever we do, at the end of (and even during) our time practicing what ever form of 'making better the world a place' we do, we must be prepared to justify the changes we propose. Record outcomes for the better within your own environment as a result of your own/communitiy effort/s, bring these changes to the attention of the 'authorities' and change or in the least (such as our good friend and subject of the opening post in this thread, Ben Law, did) bend the law.

    Cheerio, Markos.
     
  9. Lumbuck Thornton

    Lumbuck Thornton Junior Member

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    Well put. I get the impression that the planning scheme is all about guiding political processes and funds in certain directions and it is remarkable that so many people can be left so far behind by a planning scheme and so many planning schemes are so ignorant of the the future. The community now has a very short attention span and few people have any idea their might be alternatives and so the scheme just seems very inward looking. Maybe with some computer modelling we can come up with some realistic alternative worlds to help inform all the decision makers about the decision making that has to be made beyond vested interests.

    Thankyou for elaborating.
     
  10. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    I don't know how realistic it is (it seems plausible to me) but I like the scenarios presented in Anna Edey's "Greyburg or Greendale...Where Would You Rather Live?" as a way to present possible alternatives: http://www.solviva.com/Greyburg_Greendale.htm :)
     
  11. Lumbuck Thornton

    Lumbuck Thornton Junior Member

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    Greendale is a Great Concept but maybe it needs a bit more work. I wonder if there is a google sketchup version we could walk through. I have been working on some new units of greendale civilisation that I reckon could turn some heads. I have a video and an article for this site in production.
     
  12. ecodharmamark

    ecodharmamark Junior Member

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    G'day Ludi and LT

    Thanks for your continued input.

    In terms of 'planning': Our discussion is now moving away from the 'hard', prescriptive practice of the statutory planner to that of the 'soft', proactive practice of the strategic planner (two very different arms of 'planning').

    'Visioning' (aka scenario planning) i.e. the Greendale example, is something that Holmgren has put a lot of work into:

    http://www.futurescenarios.org/

    For a very long-term 'vision', check out the Tandanya Shadowplans:

    http://www.urbanecology.org.au/shadowplans/

    'Planning', as previously discussed, is a very broad school. Ultimately, planning is the responsibility of the individual members of any one community/settlement. If people have an interest in the way their (human and non-human) habitats are planned and subsequently developed (and why wouldn't they?), then it is up to these very same people to band together and implement change from the bottom up.

    Obviously, the above is never an easy process to embark upon. However there are many examples, from many corners of the globe, where an integral and grassroots approach to the planning of our collective future are occurring. Permaculture is but merely one of these.

    Of course, we cannot rest on our 'plans' alone; we must work towards securing our collective visions by implementing our plans through practical application. Currently, I spend about 1/3 of my waking hours consolidating theory (usually, a solitary practice), another 1/3 putting these theories into practice (during consultancy, and often in the company of many others), and the final 1/3 reviewing the practice and reformulating new theory (mostly through academic - teaching and research - pursuits).

    'Planning' is, and should always remain, a dynamic process. There is no end to planning. There is no such thing as the 'grand plan'; an answer to all the world's woes. We have to keep working at developing our plans, we have to keep refining them. Utopia, as attractive as it might be imagined, is but a place I visit during my sleeping hours.

    Keep up the great work, Markos.
     
  13. Lumbuck Thornton

    Lumbuck Thornton Junior Member

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    Interesting comments and links as always :) Much appreciated.
     

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