Planning for the people, by the people
June 19, 2012
For the longest time, government played a key role in the provision of public goods – bridges, roads, public education, safety regulations, etc, which served worthy public purposes.
Today in the US, a strong vanguard of anti-government sentiment has unsettled our political institutions, such that former moderates can no longer be expected to win re-election. As a result, economic policies aimed to provide public services and to generate economic activity are frozen in place due to ideological constraints. The day of reckoning is around the corner.
Has an idealised America really changed? Consecrated in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettyburg’s Address, he declared a ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal’. Today, we find instead a government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. Are we headed to another national bloodbath to settle a fundamental question?
Texas is a prime example of this mindset. While we enjoy an unemployment rate lower than the national average, our state has consistently reduced its investment aimed at lifting poor, working adults into sustainable careers with living wages and benefits. We rank last of all states in percentage of adults 25 years and older who have a high school degree while corporations complain they can’t find qualified people. Simply put, corporations do not pay their fair share to produce the quality workforce needed for today’s economy.
One key assertion made by true conservatives, in contrast to RINOS – Republicans in Name Only – is that government doesn’t create jobs, only the private sector does. This means that ‘government should get out of the way’, and allow the private sector to thrive. Yet we see record profits, corporate savings above two trillion dollars and record low interest rates at near zero. The solution to government waste is to starve it, deny it of any means by which to function except to defend our borders and pay for basic operations.
In contrast, a major Perceptions and Priorities 2012 study by the American Planning Association indicates that Americans view planning for economic recovery as essential by a large majority of every demographic group. Most do not feel that enough planning for economic growth is occurring in their local communities and do not believe that ‘market forces’ alone will lift the economic situation out of our crisis.
The view that ‘market forces’ are insufficient for our needs is significant. It opens the door for public planners to fill this void, in ways which better leverage scarce resources toward greater public outcomes, of the nature I have discussed before. Will we rise to the occasion?
Who can best lead us to restoration? Community representatives, business leaders, and planners. What do Americans want from planning efforts? Access to local independent businesses, being able to age in their own neighborhoods, more options which do not require cars, and, energy-efficient homes, when asked about their ‘ideal’ community.
Common themes expected of planners include greater job creation, education, safety, neighborhood protection, and clean water. These issues generally aligned with national priorities in light of tight fiscal resources. This current research indicates that significant opportunities exist for planners who continue gaining strong support for their work. Planning has a positive connotation requiring strong leadership skills.
Along these lines in engaging public participation, I created a public forum which had a run of 20 years. Known as First Friday Forum, we brought together citizens from all corners of our city, to discuss and debate current event issues, with great success. We posed a key question and balanced points-of-view, allowing citizens to hold accountable panelists with decision or policy authority.
Today, we still have a need for such a public forum, but I haven’t volunteered to lead it once again. I view the forum as an excellent vehicle for the public good, without the burdens of ideology, dogma, or bloodbaths. But I would volunteer to help others create their own in any community.
Transformational planning is the best public good having broad public support – let’s make the most of it.