Cities need to be designed for pedestrians, transit, bikes… not just cars

City planners lay out vision for future at annual conference

Do you hate city planners? If so, you’re not alone.

“Who Hates Planners and Why?” was one of the workshops at the Planning Institute of British Columbia’s annual conference in Victoria last week. Attended by more than 450 delegates, the event marked the institute’s 60th anniversary.

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Founded by eight members in 1958, PIBC now has 1,600 members throughout B.C. and the Yukon. While the founding members were all men, today women outnumber the men.

While we usually associate planners with municipal land-use, zoning and developments, PIBC members work in many different fields. They include resource and environmental management, heritage conservation, transportation, economic development and law.

Professional planners use their knowledge, skills and experience to help create more livable and sustainable communities and environments. In so doing, they often raise the ire of politicians, citizens, developers, architect and others.

As Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria, noted in her opening remarks, planners are by nature optimistic. They start with what exists today and must plan for an increasingly uncertain future. She urged planners to be courageous, to stand up to politicians and be willing to recommend changes to policies that don’t work.

In the opening keynote address, internationally renowned planner Gil Penalosa inspired the audience with a presentation on how planners must adapt to a changing world. As life expectancy increases, it is increasingly important to design cities for those who are eight and 80, not just those 30 and athletic.

In the past, we designed our cities to accommodate cars. However, those under 16 do not drive and many seniors are as afraid of losing their drivers license as getting cancer. We need to design cities for those who don’t have a driver’s license.

Since streets comprise 25 to 35 per cent of the space occupied by cities, we must design for pedestrians and cyclists as much as cars. Rather than worry only about potholes, we need to worry about broken sidewalks and playgrounds.

Penalosa argues good sidewalks and cycle paths dignify a community.

For years, he has been promoting the idea of Ciclovias, a Spanish term that means cycleway. They began in his home city of Bogota, Colombia in the 1970s, when the main streets were blocked off to cars for runners, skaters and cyclists each Sunday and public holiday from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m.  Today they are happening in Paris and Delhi and dozens of other cities around the world.

Penalosa challenged planners to consider that in 40 years we are going to double the size of cities. Half of the homes we will require are yet to be built.

As we plan cities of the future, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past half century when we built primarily low-density neighbourhoods, devoid of commercial areas, linked to downtowns by extensive expressways.

We also need to focus on preventing pedestrian injuries and deaths. One way to do this is to reduce road speeds to 30 km in all residential areas, an idea gaining currency around the world.

We need to improve public transit, whether it be rapid bus, light rail, or subways. In Penalosa’s opinion, a civilized city isn’t one where the poor have cars, but rather it is one where the rich use public transit. This means designing more comfortable, weather-protected bus-stop shelters.

Penalosa concluded his talk by challenging the audience to plan the city for children. If we want them to walk to school, we must retain and build small neighbourhood schools. We must never forget the perspective at 95 cm — the height of a child.

Not surprisingly, many of the conference workshops addressed housing affordability and how planners can more effectively work with neighbourhood residents and politicians to achieve buy-in for more housing choices.

One idea is the creation of “house-plexes,” comprising three, four or six dwellings. In some cases, they may be larger homes that have been subdivided. In others, they will be new structures offering smaller homes for sale or rent on former single-family lots.

While we may often hate planners, they have an important role to play since one thing all conference delegates agreed upon is the answer to housing affordability is not more taxes.





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