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Good city leaders think about regional growth, not just city growth, for as the metropolis expands, they will need the cooperation of surrounding municipalities and regional service providers. Without it, the result will likely be local competition and conflict, over- or underinvestment in infrastructure because of concerns about who pays for what and who benefits, and confusion over roles and responsibilities. An example of the need for cooperation is China’s Pearl River Delta region, which has five competing international airports in Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Macau, and Hong Kong, all within an area of 39 square miles (100 square kilometers). The consequences—delayed flights, extra fuel costs, and concerns about safety—led to an agreement in 2012 aiming for more collaboration.
Adopt a regional perspective
A regional planning model helps overcome such conflicts and so promotes growth not only in the city but also in the entire region. In Germany, the city-state of Berlin is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg. The two states’ inevitable impact on each other has shifted their relationship from informal collaboration to more formal arrangements, to the extent that they have a significant number of joint authorities, courts, offices, institutions, and agencies. One such joint organization, the Joint Spatial Planning Department, lays out land use policies and transportation guidelines for the whole region, which are followed by the two states’ own planning organizations. Similarly, the US city of Portland, Oregon, set up a Metro Council to oversee regional planning. [highlight background=”#3F51B5″ color=”#eeeeee”]Cities and counties in the region have representation on the council[/highlight], but all have given up much of their own planning power in order to meet regional planning goals with the engagement and support of communities throughout the area. Make planning an inclusive process.
City planning needs to be a dialogue between parties, not an outcome dictated by any single party. Top-down planning alone, by a remote regional or metropolitan authority, cannot hope to address local concerns adequately, while a bottom-up approach led by smaller bodies risks unnecessary duplication and overlap, particularly in transportation and utility services. Smart growth therefore ensures a planning process that combines the two, and good planners are adept at managing the process that enables it.
The French region of Ile de France (essentially the Paris metropolitan area) adopted this approach in 2008, when municipal and county leaders came together to develop a regional plan that set targets to be met by 2030. A framework coordinates public policies on transportation, open space, land use, social inclusion, and housing; regulates local plans (for example, by prescribing density requirements);
- And oversees the location of regional infrastructure and transport
- The views of local associations and public institutions have resulted in thousands of modifications
- San Francisco’s approach to planning also takes care to involve citizens
- The Trans Bay Redevelopment Project, for example, appointed a citizens’ advisory committee and has held three large facilitated workshops to gather local input on the design of the development.
Keep it flexible
Cities are increasingly adopting flexible urban plans that serve as frameworks into which they fit projects proposed at a local level. These plans are akin to a set of guiding principles to help planners to assess new proposals, rather than documents that determine the future once and for all. As a result, they evolve along with the city’s changing needs while ensuring that the city continues to make progress toward long-term targets.
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This kind of flexibility requires a great deal of skill, and cities that excel at urban planning have multidisciplinary planning departments. San Francisco’s planning department works in this flexible way. The department, which employs some 100 people skilled in areas including urban planning, economics, and transportation, has a “live” plan based on principles that promote the city’s vision of “protecting, preserving and enhancing the city’s economic, social, cultural and aesthetic values.” The plan does not, however, specify precise usages for specific plots. Project proposals are instead assessed case by case with the principles in mind.