An Urban Planner's Perspective. How Will You Choose?

By John C. Reinhardt, AICP - Program Manager, American Planning Association

After reviewing the many fantastic entries in the Sustainable Urban Housing: Collaborating for Liveable and Inclusive Cities competition, a number of key themes rise to the surface. These themes reflect my own experience as an urban planning professional, and I will try to reflect on how this particular professional perspective can help you form your own critical lens as you select your favorite entries.

The first theme is the importance of considering all scales – from the housing unit, through the neighborhood and city, all the way to state and federal policy – in building livable and inclusive cities. The range of entries highlighted the fact that the topic of “sustainable housing” is not just about the house, but about the neighborhood, city, and country. Is the project you are reviewing scalable? Can it be replicated at the neighborhood level or in multiple places throughout a city? Could federal governments adopt this policy or program? One project is not required to meet all of these needs, but the best projects are those where a ripple effect might take hold.

The second exciting finding is that many projects incorporated comprehensive planning as part of their strategy. Projects examined education, economic development, transportation, public health, and open space, remembering the tenet that cities are for people. This type of interdisciplinary thinking is exactly what is needed to improve the lives of millions of people, both now and in future generations. As you look through the entries, ask yourself how each project would bring value to your own community. The best project models and concepts could be adapted to Lima, Peru as easily as Lima, Ohio.

The third trend is that the projects bridge the divides that we often see between the public sector, private sector, and NGOs. The very existence of this competition – one with government, NGO, and foundation support – shows that these silos are slowly starting to erode, and some of the most effective competition entries captured that spirit. Review what kind of partnerships the proposals create. Consider the partnerships that may spring forth that the entrant has not yet considered.

From an urban planner’s perspective, the projects selected here echo the thoughts of the 24 signatories and supporters of the Vancouver Declaration of 2006 that outlined the urban planning profession’s commitment to tackling the challenges of rapid urbanization.  Particularly relevant to this competition is the statement that:

“We stand for Planning as an inclusive process. Planning is both strategic and local, integrative, participatory, creative, embracing cultural diversity and rooted in concerns for equity.”

I challenge you to keep these final thoughts in mind as you review and vote for the top three projects out of the eleven selected here.

 John Reinhardt is an urban planner at the American Planning Association, where he oversees the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas and Delta Urbanism programs.