For Release Friday, June 14, 2013
You’d think I would have known better. After all, I’ve been writing about growth since before they called it Smart Growth, and I’m still writing about it now that it’s “resiliency,” or “sustainable growth” or whatever the next term is. I can’t count how many times I’ve explained that when you decide where you want urban growth to go, you must also decide where you don’t want it to go.
That’s why last week’s regional planning exercise was an eye-opener. I learned – or rather, learned again – some key lessons:
- Real life doesn’t always work the way you think it should.
- The general public doesn’t think nearly as much about these issues as we like to assume they do.
The exercise was RealityCheck2050, part of a multi-year, regional planning project called CONNECT Our Future that’s looking at the 14-county, two-state Charlotte region. RealityCheck, organized by the Charlotte chapter of the Urban Land Institute, hosted 400 people – among them some 30 elected officials.
We started by listening to speakers, including Ed McMahon of the Urban Land Institute (a Citistates associate), whose inspiring talk included this line – one I’ve heard so often I groaned: “Trying to cure congestion by building more lanes is like trying to cure obesity by lengthening your belt.”
Yet many in the audience laughed. People Tweeted it to their followers. Lesson No. 1: Sometimes city planner types forget other people are not immersed in this subject.
Then we began a game-like exercise at tables fitted out with Legos and a giant regional map. We were told that by 2050 the region of 2.4 million is expected to grow by 1.8 million and add 863,000 jobs. Each table had to stack hundreds of red and yellow Legos where we thought jobs and housing should go. We could mark out new transit lines with orange yarn, new highways with purple, and green spaces with green yarn.
The planning game used red and yellow Legos for new homes and jobs. But we forgot about green space until late in the game. Photo: Mary Newsom