Thursday, January 12, 2006

More Charrette

In a throw away comment in this post, I said I agree with those trying to slow down the development of the post-Charrette Town Center plan, although I questioned their motives, saying that some were trying to bend the process to their favor instead of allowing an honest and equal assessment of all citizens’ input. Then, in today’s Flier, there’s this:

The approval of a 30-year master plan for downtown Columbia will be delayed until the summer to provide more time for public review and comment.

The revised schedule results from requests from citizens and planning staff to slow the plan’s approval process, said William Mackey, a Howard County planning supervisor.

“I think it was a mixture of many things,” he said. “Some of the people expressed concerns about rushing to approve the master plan and some of the staff expressed concerns about needing more time to put documents together.”
The decision to delay the plan’s drafting was lauded in a Flier editorial.
County planning officials are exercising good sense in delaying completion of the master plan for downtown Columbia.

…If resident input is truly a desirable goal - which we believe it is - the county has to solicit it in the “editing” process, too.
I wish I could say the same. Upon reflection and receiving further guidance from a wise man, I’ve changed my mind about holding the process up--and no, I’m not just being contrary.

Also from the story linked above is this quote from Robert Tennenbaum, an architected who participated in the original planning of Columbia.
“We’ve got the momentum going and we ought to move ahead and stick to the original plan,” said Tennenbaum, who is now director of Real Estate Development for the University of Baltimore. “These are highly technical issues that will be handled over time.”
Why should we listen to Tennenbaum? Well, he did write the book 
on Columbia.

I’m not so much concerned about “momentum,” which is overrated--particularly in sports. Rather, his second sentence is where the heart of my change of heart lies, particularly when viewed in the context of the Flier’s “editing” comment.

More than anything else, the Charrette was a chance for citizens to do what they do best--share their views about the future of their town. Input was to be big picture, visionary-type stuff; not traffic counts, pupil generation ratios, and other arcane facets of planning that we may understand but certainly don’t work with every day, like professional planners.

While I applaud those hearty souls who have been attending the Charrette Focus Group meetings and commenting extensively on the minutiae of the plan, I think this is one instance where they may be doing more harm than good, at present, anyway. We’re rapidly approaching the point of too many “planners” around the drafting table, and instead of getting a plan that’s daring and inspiring, we’ll get something that stinks of mediocrity and over-accommodation.

This is not to sound condescending. Lord knows Howard County is full of a bunch of smart folks, many of whom have a good grasp on community planning issues and care a great deal. Nor should my statements imply that once many of the technical details are worked out, citizens shouldn’t be critical if the finished product doesn’t meet their expectations.

All this post is meant to say is let’s wait and see. Let’s see the plan before we say it’s bad. Let’s see DPZ’s attention to the details and our input before we say they’re in bed with developers. Let’s wait to see what we've got, and then start stirring the soup if it doesn’t look right.

But, for now, we should stay out of their way.

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