It's time to reintroduce communities into the planning process. New York must move beyond the oppositional model of planning that has too long dominated .... Although there is no contradiction in planning both inductively and deductively, our process is too skewed toward money and away from people: the capacity of neighborhoods to meaningfully participate in planning their own destinies—and that of the larger realms we all share—is fundamental. Wisdom doesn't belong to any particular group (although needs are best assessed locally), and a mayor must empower everyone ....
Let the de Blasio planning department pay better attention, return to the task of physical planning attuned to local desires, and more aggressively pursue architecturally significant outcomes. Instead of simply being the adjudicators of the circumstances for construction, our planners should produce more facts, more designs—and should set priorities that are both concrete and truly visionary.
For the past dozen years, the real power to plan has resided with the city's Economic Development Corporation, which, operating more like a private entity than a city agency, stands outside full scrutiny and control and acts as the mayor's creature. This tilt toward understanding government's role primarily as the facilitator of private initiatives has special consequences for the public realm—a space shared by the city's many publics—and it's time for a more transparent use of public money. There's something dispiriting about celebrating the fact that the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge Park was produced not by the Parks Department but by a special corporation financed by the inclusion of superluxe condos and a hipster hotel within it. Forcing the public realm to effectively produce its own revenues on the spot is a formula for assuring that the best public spaces will be in neighborhoods that can most afford them. The role of planning should be to equalize opportunity and community assets, and any system that either privatizes revenue collection or steers it too locally risks deepening the rift between our “two cities.”
The past two mayoral terms in Nashville drifted away from sustaining agencies in Metro government that advocate for community-based and neighborhood-based interests.
|Says Dean: "Maximize tourism and entertainment"|
Consequently, Mayor Dean is experiencing blow-back from his seemingly singular dependence on economic development, and he is having to stave off questions concerning his spending on public infrastructure. There are perceptions that the Mayor is the Mayor of the more privileged parts of the city, but not of the entire city. Nashville has it's own reputation of being "two cities" to live down, but the leaders are not living it down gracefully. Take last week's Nashville Ledger:
Dean is quick to point out that the bulk of his spending plans have focused on basic infrastructure needs, such as sidewalks and paving, as well as projects that provide direct services to residents, including new police precincts, libraries, schools, parks, greenways, bikeways and open space ....
His capital spending plans have also invested $373 million in schools and allocated more than $40 million to improving Nashville’s walkability.
And a capital program begun in 2010 will spend more than $1 billion on a backlog of water, sewer and storm water infrastructure projects throughout Davidson County that were needed to preserve safe, clean drinking water.
But Hizzoner overplayed his hand. If I were Mayor and taking some heat for spending more on subsidizing big business than on serving the community, I would point out if I could how much more I have spent on sidewalks, library buildings and schools than the previous "Neighborhoods Mayor". To me it is telling that Karl Dean does not.
As for the spending on schools, what Mayor Dean failed to mention was that chunks of the $373 million went to aid his program of privatizing public schools by helping charter corporations and corporately-partnered "academies" effectively designed to limit public education for all.
Also, keep this in mind about the water infrastructure: it had been violating the Clean Water Act and getting negative attention from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation for years before Nashville made a concerted effort to upgrade components that predated Abraham Lincoln's administration. The Mayor was forced from the top-down to make changes to Metro Water infrastructure to avoid costly and embarrassing EPA fines that threatened the Nashville brand. There also might be a couple of Metro Council members who should get credit for their efforts at shepherding water upgrades and sensitizing constituents to the need for changes.
If Hizzoner really is not getting the benefit of the doubt on policy that seems focused on handing entitlements to wealthy special interests, then he has earned the reputation. The current planning process is overrun and corrupted by Mayor Dean's exclusive commitments to business over community. Developers continue to enjoy greater advantages over communities than ever before. Wealth tips the balance of power.
If reintroducing communities into the planning process and taking the spotlight off public-private partnerships goes for New York City, the idea goes doubly for Nashville. We have seen a 2-term stretch in which Karl Dean has acted like a mini-Mike Bloomberg and asserted business models over a more democratic community process that should have more influence over growth and development than currently allowed.