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September 16, 2020  

For City Planners, Community Consensus Shouldn’t Be the Standard

September 16, 2020

Aiming for community consensus when making planning decisions sounds like a noble goal. Yet in practice, says Jeremy Levine in a recent article in Shelterforce, a consensus approach to community participation often supports “elite authority” and the status quo rather than challenges them.

Levine uses an example from the affordable housing debates in the Bay Area, where public meetings were, in effect, “veto points that can block new development.”

New projects generally require community agreement in order to move forward, and so all it takes is a handful of opponents to signal a lack of consensus. By design, then, public meetings give the people who say “no” a much louder voice than the people who say “yes.”

Levine’s article in particular—and community consensus in general—is the subject of this week’s episode of Upzoned. Host Abby Kinney, a planner in Kansas City, and Strong Towns senior editor Daniel Herriges, discuss the ways in which conventional public engagement can actually hurt the planning process. They talk about why asking people where they struggle (not to mention observing firsthand) can yield better results than asking people what they want. They also discuss why reforming public engagement should go hand in hand with reforming public works.

Then in the Downzone, Daniel recommends The Overstory, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about trees that inspires awe, wonder, and even humility in the reader. And Abby is getting ready for Fall with a scary yet thought-provoking film.

Additional Show Notes