From place to place: Reinventing transport planning with placemaking

Progressive transport planning is in the midst of a boom, but is it on the right track to create the shift that the movement is looking for and does it even have the right vision of what that is? How can we capture this momentum to create a true structural shift in how we do transportation planning?

Advocates are finally getting attention for issues like the impact and efficiency of the various modes of transport, the fair allocation of road space and spending, and the opportunities to create more seamless transportation systems.  These advances all need to happen, but if advocated for and implemented alone may actually end up perpetuating the existing paradigm.  Moving the discussion beyond the technical mobility solutions may actually be the best way to make these solutions feasible.

Transport planning has not only forgotten to create and support the places they are meant to bring people to, but has often degraded the very destinations they are meant to connect.

The goal of transport planning would seem to be to facilitate getting people places – connecting people with destinations.  Unfortunately most transport planning has not only forgotten to create and support the places they are meant to bring people to, but have degraded the very destinations they are meant to connect.  The people in charge of creating destinations have likewise planned in isolation, for isolation.  Everyone is blaming the need for mobility.

In the misdirected effort to make people as mobile as possible, many of our transport networks are accomplishing a great deal less with a great deal more costs.  The results of this narrow focus on mobility to the exclusion of accessibility and placemaking – more congestion, reduced human contact, isolated land uses, car-oriented design of buildings, short-sighted development, more dangerous roads, decreased walkability, longer travel distances, and more stress – are all the things that progressive transport planners have supposedly been trained to address positively.

What kind of cities, communities and streets we actually want to have?

The focus on mobility, throughput, and even traffic as growth indicator, has taken the political and community conversation a long way from even talking about what kind of cities, communities and streets we actually want to have.  This mentality has effectively turned all civic engagement along these lines where many community activists are now the fiercest defenders of mobility.  Even ‘alternative modes’ advocacy (transit, bicycles, pedestrians) are still often focused on mobility and on pushing solutions within this paradigm.  Only in small nibbles are advocacy efforts starting to frame their approach around accessibility or placemaking.

Transport planning can shift from being the primary engine of community degradation to the driving force of community development.

Putting the debate as merely a spending or mode shift debate will only get us so far and limit the partners and vision that can be brought together.  Looking at creating great cities, great streets and great destinations, big and small, and addressing economic, health and safety issues will more effectively create a political climate, and public realm, that is compatible with alternate modes while also reducing the need for travel and creating places where people actually want to be.  If it is allowed to, transport planning can shift from being the primary engine of community degradation to the driving force of community development.

If the point of transport planning is to get people places they want to be, then all transport planning should really start with placemaking.

And if our planning efforts actually focused on creating places, we could actually meet the goals of getting people places, and getting things done, much faster.  Great places are in fact defined by the ability to accomplish many things at once, often accomplishing many spontaneous, ‘unplanned’ goals in the process. Even residential land-use and density can best be shifted from a suburban model through a broader focus on place rather than forced density, and mode shifts.

It is increasingly hard to get to places we want to be.

Congestion relief efforts have likewise focused on the wrong problem.  Congestion effectively prevents people from getting places, but the real problem is that current mobility-focused transport planning causes traffic because it is creating fewer places to go and is degrading reasons to be in any one place.  The clogging effectively occurs because it is increasingly hard to get to places we want to be.  In this regard, the way to address congestion or parking ‘problems’ is actually to create destinations that are even more attractive for people to come to. People will walk from further out, park further away and, combine trips and take less convenient transit, all further making a good place and strong local economy possible. Of course, if you don’t have a parking or congestion problem than you are not a good place.

We have been moving people and goods around more and more and accomplishing less and less.

Imagine for instance the efficiency of what gets accomplished in some of the best public markets or civic squares in the world where mobility is at its lowest.  By focusing narrowly on mobility we have been moving people and goods around more and more and accomplishing less and less. The high street also is an example of an efficient transport system.  High streets have failed because the transport systems have shifted to mobility-centric view and the development models that appeal to that have therefore been able to out compete high streets.

The best way to create the true paradigm shift away from our oil dependence is to create places that people want to be, places that support vital local economies, healthy, safe, active lifestyles and strong communities.

Current growth strategies have been based on increasing movement of people and goods.  The future of transport planning needs to start with creating comfortable settings for all kinds of exchange between people.  It is through re-envisioning our cities, transport systems and economies around these transport destinations that we will be able to truly make our world compatible with strong communities, economies and natural ecosystems as well as make feasible the more sustainable modes of mass transit, walking and bicycling.

To enjoy all our premium content please login or join now.

Ethan Kent

Ethan Kent is vice-president of Project for Public Spaces (PPS)

1 Comment

  • David Randall

    Thank you so much for your blog Ethan. PPS sets agreat example, I am glad also that ‘Jane’s Walks’ in memory of Jane Jacobs have come over to UK to remind us of the spirit of activism that makes it possible for comfortable settings for exchange to take place. I am also an advocate to intergenerational housing because community between family members is as important, if not more so, than between neighbours. But people need both of course. Best wishes to all New Yorkers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*