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.