On Memorial Day, we celebrate the sacrifice of the many men and women of our Armed Forces that have passed on either in battle or having lived a full civilian life. My PaPa was a World War II veteran and his presence was missed as we gathered around the table and the grill at my house yesterday.
Before everyone came over, I was sitting at my kitchen table writing in my urbanist journal and I thought about how some other, more mundane, public servants actually make our places. I’m talking about everyone from the mayors, to the town and city planners, to the grant administrators, to the classically trained government service generalists (MPA’s, MPP’s and the like) such as myself. Even people such as firefighters and police can be placemakers, as they are the ones who spearhead events like National Night Out and make sure we have safe places to go.
In essence, I came up with yet another list of five specific ways us government workers, elected officials and those of us without a fancy planning firm behind our name make or break great places.
-We are charged with creating rural and urban transit systems: Generally, we have the final say about how people get around. Drivers licenses, bike lane approval, and the number of buses or train cars are all government worker decisions.
-We can and must wrangle the political system: This includes public comment periods, concerns about Agenda 21, and just general concerns about getting ourselves into too much civic debt. Also, we may have been in a political campaign, which if done right means we shook every hand and kissed every baby in our community. We know our community and we know how to mobilize them for good will.
-We know how to finance our initiatives: Instead of drawing pretty pictures that can cost whatever it takes, we take grant allotments and make it happen on the budget we have. Often that means we get have to get the community involved or there is no project. And with tactical urbanism and other small-scale movements that incorporate elements of new urbanism, we can have a taste of full community involvement along with good urban design.
-We make laws that encourage or discourage good placemaking: The zoning code or lack of one is in our laps. Same with housing a planning department. Or the decision to go with form-based or Euclidean zoning. Plus, there’s all the behavioral laws that can encourage or discourage good placemaking.
-And finally we can turn spaces into civic spaces: We create the public parks and public squares. We protect the first amendment and allow free speech. We can also deny civil rights in our spaces. Ultimately, we hold the keys to space, unless it’s under tribal control or agreed upon to be shared in some other international agreement.
So to all my folks who are closer to the government side of the sector, take pride. Without us, there wouldn’t be a placemaking discussion at all.