Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Asking urban planners to be job counselors

All across America, urban planners are being reassigned (if they still have jobs at all.) Nowhere is this truer than at urban renewal and redevelopment agencies. Experts trained and experienced in things like land assembly, mixed-use development and streetscapes are now being asked to work on more nebulous pursuits like capacity building, workforce development and corporate recruiting. It’s a sign of the times – times of anemic job growth, timid real estate markets, cash-strapped city budgets and anti-government movements. There is public pressure to stop messing with property and start creating jobs. In an extreme example, California has disbanded and outlawed all redevelopment agencies – an unusual move for a blue state.

This great reassignment is not going entirely smoothly. At the very least, it has reduced job satisfaction and self-worth among many planning professionals. At the worst, it has cost people their jobs and eliminated an entire sector of urban planning. The tragic irony is that now would be an ideal time to think big and put people to work on major redevelopment and infrastructure projects. But that’s not where we find ourselves.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

What Portland could learn from L.A.

The image of Portland in urban planning and transportation circles is of a compact, walkable downtown, surrounded by leafy neighborhoods with vibrant commercial districts, all connected by light rail and innovative bikeways.

These things do, in fact, exist, and they are mostly wonderful. But Portland also has a dirty, not-so-little secret. There’s an entire district – representing about a quarter of the city’s land area and population – that is the exact opposite of that picture-perfect planning ideal. Think strip malls; cheap, poorly-designed multi-family housing; dangerous five-lane arterial roads with nowhere safe to walk; sparse transit service.