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Archive: Mitchell Silver

How Planning Got Its Groove Back

Mitchell Silver / Jul 10 2013

For Release Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mitchell SilverThe field of city planning emerged in U.S. at the dawn of the 20th century and helped shape a rapidly urbanizing nation. Between 1900 and 2000, the nation’s population grew by 205 million, and its land patterns transformed from 20 percent to 80 percent urban. It is hard to imagine how the American landscape would have evolved if Congress had not authorized the Zoning and Planning acts in the 1920s. Those acts empowered local governments to protect the public health, safety and welfare through planning, zoning and capital investment. Planning had a noble purpose, and our nation benefited. But fast-forward to the 21st century. Does city planning still hold a vital role as we continue to grow and urbanize?

In New Orleans in April 2010, I learned I would be the next president of the American Planning Association (APA). I knew my two-year term would be different. The planning landscape was changing. The recession was in full swing, and the mood of the country was glum. Wall Street was beginning to rebound, but Main Street was still suffering. Businesses were being dubbed “job creators,” and government was being blamed for Great Recession and the slow recovery. Planning departments were being merged, downsized or eliminated. Conspiracy theories were increasing – like the one that the United Nations Agenda 21 agreement means the U.N. taking over local government – and the property rights movement reached a broader audience.

If that climate wasn’t bad enough, planners drew criticism from traditional allies. Design professionals accused planners of lacking a design focus. New Urbanists blamed planners for being facilitators of urban sprawl, and neighborhood leaders accused planners of being too focused on the built environment instead of people. Was planning losing its relevance? Had the planning profession lost its sense of purpose? Well, not exactly, but a wake-up call was clearly in order. Something had to change.
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