Not According to Plan…

A colleague informs me that the military has a saying: Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance.

Well, batten down the hatches. If you think Indianapolis government hasn’t been performing very well lately, we’re about to see how bad it can get. Not that we’ll see piss-poor results immediately– we won’t. And that’s part of the problem.

The City of Indianapolis has just fired more than half of its planning staff–a staff that was already a bare-bones remnant of what it has been in the past. (And let’s be honest, even in its most robust past it was barely adequate.)

Most citizens don’t see the need for planning. They understand the need for public safety, they appreciate garbage collection and street paving. They know they need sewers.  Planning, on the other hand, seems vaguely bureaucratic and arcane.

Modern urban planning began in the early decades of the 20th Century; it was a response to appalling sanitary, social and economic conditions in the rapidly-growing industrial cities of the time. Today, it can be described as a technical and political process that uses extensive public input to guide land use, transportation, urban design and protect the environment.

Planning is what allows us to use our ever-more-limited public resources efficiently to achieve goals that the public has identified as important.

Knowing where growth is occurring tells us where to put new roads. Planning and zoning decisions protect the value of property (you aren’t likely to spend money improving your home if a gas station can be built next door). Planning projections allow us to avoid unnecessary congestion, provide urban amenities like parks where those are most needed, focus renewal efforts on deteriorating neighborhoods, and deploy public safety officers strategically. Planning allows us to ameliorate or avoid things like urban asthma and lead poisoning, ensure that water supplies will continue to be adequate….in short, it helps us  ensure that our physical and social infrastructure is serving us properly.

Planning allows city administrators to base the decisions they have to make every day on data rather than hunches.  And the public availability of that data allows citizens to hold their government accountable for those decisions–to ensure that they are based on relevant criteria rather than on cronyism or responsiveness to special interests. 

The thing is, planners aren’t “front and center.” They work behind the scenes, and their concerns tend to be long-term. So an administration that wants to save money can get rid of planners, knowing that the negative effects won’t be obvious until he or she is safely out of office.

Next time you drive around Castleton Square–if you are hardy enough, or just unlucky enough to have to do so–consider it the face of the future.


  1. The City has plenty of “planners”. Every Yay-hoo who writes a check to the Mayor can influence the City’s “planning efforts” however they want. Why retain “gatekeepers” who might possibly suggest that there are overarching concerns over political campaign accounts? Silly thought.

  2. As evidenced by some of my former comments on Sheila’s blog; my brain sometimes works on a different level than her highly educated readers and responders. As an example; during the many times I have watched that wonderful old movie, “A Christmas Story”; I find my eyes wondering to the background and neighborhood conditions of those days. Probably because I worked for Department of Metropolitan Development, of which Planning and Zoning Division were a part, I saw why planning and zoning ordinances are sorely needed.

    Today; trying to report a neighborhood problem to the Mayor’s Office is a detailed ordeal on line; being deaf, I have no idea of problems phone callers are met with. I learned last year that, after walking past that dead possum in the middle of East 17th Street for almost one week, the Mayor’s Office considers the problem resolved when it is assigned to someone to investigate. In this case it took 3 days to assign and 4 additional days to send someone to remove the decomposing animal. Of course, I wondered why one of the neighbors didn’t shovel the dead possum into their trash bag for pickup instead of driving around it day after day. Back in the day – the Hudnut days – zoning inspectors responded to complaints of violations to write a report. At that time, if they saw another violation, they wrote the complaint to be responded to. Today; if they come out, they drive by obvious violations. I don’t believe this is Planning and Zoning policy but possibly an overburden of violations due to deteriorating neighborhoods.

    Why do I see the orange Zoning Hearing signs in front of on-going construction? If a hearing has been held, the sign should be removed; if no hearing, the construction should not have been started. My honest friend and neighbor contacted Planning and Zoning to ask the legalities for adding a roof over the the small (8 ft. wide) cemented porch area at the front of his home when he purchased it. He was told it would take a Zoning Hearing and would cost approximately $800 for proper permission to roof a violation added by the previous owner because it was a few feet too close to the city right-of-way fronting the house. This area was the same width as the stoop erected on the house when it was constructed during the mid-1950’s. He still has no roof over the area. Drive a few blocks west to East 16th and Arlington Avenue and see the massive construction going on in what was previously a fenced part of Raytheon; there are still Zoning Hearing signs in place in front of the area. As always with this local government, follow the money. Raytheon has lots of it; my retired, disabled friend does not have money or a porch roof. Do we need planning – you betcha’ but evidently what we need more of is adhering to current planning and zoning ordinances.

  3. Planners? We don’t need no stinking planners. Mayor Ballard and Ryan Vaughn have to abillity to see everything that will happen in the next 50 years, allowing them to sign up for that exceptional parking meter deal. With clairvoyance like that, planners are unnecessary.

  4. On one hand, city planners are an essential part of city government and developing a city. On the other hand, what the hell do they do all day when we have these ugly monstrosities like the Broad Ripple Parking garage that are supported by our city government and subsidized with tax dollars?

  5. This reminds me of the principle of “regression toward the mean”, where the mean is decrepit conditions. I remember when Indianapolis was characterized by decrepit conditions, but then with visionary and positive government, it became the place to go. Now, regression has taken over, and it looks like people are determined for it to go back to where it was. But people have elected that government, and like they say, you get the kind of government you deserve.

  6. Matthew Stone – Whenever you read about “planners” working on this or that, it is most likely not a city planner. It’s usually someone from the Mayor’s Office or some other political hack. Or a well-connected contributor. Or a consultant. Real planners are never involved with important decisions. Otherwise they would gum up the pay-to-play scams.

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