Objectivity or Crazy Good Dreams of Wonderful Communities?
(this post from a new blogger for Bikeside, the Subjective Bureaucrat. The Subjective Bureaucrat chooses to remain nameless, but you can bet he or she knows what he or she is talking about ; ] I’m happy to have him or her on board! -AT)
In the world of planning, or on a larger scale government work in general, there has always been this stated goal of objectivity. The idea being that if you take your own personal emotions and opinions out of the equation you will somehow get a more accurate, and therefore better, result. Well I am going to call BULLSHIT on that concept all together.
Take a walk through any DMV office or have a conversation with the person on the other side of the counter. It is an absolutely heartless experience. Those poor people have been stuck doing the same thing day in and day out just waiting for retirement. It scares me… seriously! As a government employee is that what I have to look forward to? I have seen it in almost every government office, people just pushing paper from one side of their desk to the other. It is happening in every planning office right now… applications for zoning variances and conditional use permits, environmental documents with the same mitigation measures that have been cut and pasted from one to the other. How is this “objectivity” considered positive?
Now, yes I am talking about an extreme here, but I firmly believe that this extreme is what an objective planner has to look forward to. I have come to a realization that government planning as a career is intent on destroying whatever heart and utopian ideas you went into it with. The truth is that most planners come out of college with some amazing ideas and crazy good dreams of wonderful communities where you can walk to the market or mom can borrow a cup of sugar from next door. A place where kids still ride their bikes to school…
Did you really think that a conversation about the role of bicycles in planning was not going to end up in here somewhere? What website are you reading?
It is time that planners spend less time stuck behind a counter and more time experiencing what their city, county, or state has to offer. You have to have heart in order to survive a planning career! Your ideas and opinions are not only valid but valuable as well! I challenge you to throw your objectivity under the next bus that drives by and become a subjective bureaucrat!
Getting on a bike is a good place to start. There is one simple concept that I believe will save me from a heartless bureaucratic life, what is good for a bicyclist is good for the community as a whole. I stole that damn near verbatim. In planning we call them “best practices,” everywhere else they call it plagiarism or theft. I like good ideas, if you have a good idea I am going to steal it and not give you any credit for it… it is the highest form of flattery. If you want to know about pot holes, get on a bike. If you want to know about parking (or lack thereof), get on a bike. If you want to know about traffic, get on a bike. On a bike a planner can see and feel all of the issues that face a community. Smooth streets are better for cyclists, Slower cars are better for cyclists, shady streets are better for cyclists, accessible services are better for cyclists… see where I am going with this?
People care about the places where they live and work. They are passionate about it. As a planner, you are going to get yelled at. People are going to say rude and nasty things to you that you will probably never forget. And I am not here to tell you to ignore it. I absolutely love public meetings. I love getting yelled at because at the core of it that person’s passion is what we should be listening to, they really care. I get the best ideas from people yelling at me. Bring it on. Best of all, at meetings I get to be subjective. I care about this place and I too have great ideas. I go into every meeting with one thing on my mind, “if they know what I know and they care like I care, then we are probably going to find a lot of common ground.” Ultimately I am there to sell a community good planning concepts and practices because most fear of change comes from not knowing or understanding the concepts that the change is based on. Planning is about solutions to community-based problems. The community knows what the problems are, that is what they are screaming at you about. So take a moment and not just listen to what they have to say, but actually give a shit about it. Real planning happens from there.