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Making city planning cool again


This morning my friend Mackenzie Keast – who is famous and was on the radio in Toronto today talking about The Laneway Project – sent me an interesting article from the Guardian talking about the marginalization and growing irrelevance of city planners. It’s called: For the sake of our cities, it’s time to make town planning cool again.

The gist of the article is as follows:

While the cult of the star architect has soared over the decades and property developers have displaced bankers as the new super-rich, the figure of the local town planner has become comic shorthand for a certain kind of faceless, under-whelming dullard.

But what really stood out for me are the following two things. First, that people are genuinely interested in cities. I would say that it’s almost trendy to be into cities these days.

Urbanism may have displaced cultural theory as the favoured subject of the academic hipster, but talented young men and women rarely consider becoming town planners.

And second, that we’ve made it difficult for these same interested people to participate in the planning process.

Planners have become simultaneously under-respected and over-professionalised. Their training and practice too often leaves them able to communicate effectively only with other planners and professionals, working in an abstract language that alienates them from people. People are occasionally allowed into the professional planner’s world, but in highly mediated terms dictated by the profession.

This stands out for me because I think that architecture is in a somewhat similar position. I often joke that the more architecture training someone has, the more likely they’re going to like buildings that the rest of the world doesn’t. It all becomes quite insular – just like the Guardian is arguing with respect to planning.

And that may in fact be the reason for the marginalization of both planners and architects (minus the few starchitects that have a distinct brand and can command a premium). If the general public doesn’t like what you do or understand how you create value, why should they care?

I’ve written before about the future of the architecture profession, as well as the reasons for why I decided to never practice architecture. So I won’t repeat it all here.

But I will say that it had nothing to do with me not loving architecture. Because I do and always will. Instead, it was about recognizing that professions are not set in stone. Just like pretty much everything else in this world, they can and will be reinvented.

Image: The Guardian / PA

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