Roger Lewis on the Courage of Master Plans

Roger Lewis on the Courage of Master Plans

Roger Lewis is a retired professor of architecture at Univ. of Maryland College Park who writes the “Shaping the City” column for the Washington Post. He is following the White Flint Sector Plan process. In today’s column, Lewis discusses an unusual topic: what it takes to be a Master Planner in a center of civic activism:

To appreciate the difficulty of crafting a master plan, imagine that you are its author. You must take into account a daunting array of research data and forecasts: population and demographic projections — compositional shifts, for example, among families with children, elderly retirees and singles; personal income; business activity and jobs; tax revenues; housing types and preferences; transportation demand and optional travel modes, and public service needs such as education, health, safety and recreation.

Your plan must help sustain the health of natural and built environments, reduce energy and natural resource consumption, and be economically viable over time. Equally important, it must produce an aesthetically attractive community in which to live, work, conduct business and enjoy leisure activities.

Finally — and this is the hardest and most controversial task — your plan must anticipate evolving conditions and satisfy unprecedented needs certain to arise decades in the future. It cannot address only today’s problems or respond only to the wishes of today’s citizenry.

Lots of master planning going on in the Washington area right now, and Lewis addresses that as well:

Witness the controversy swirling around long-range-planning visions contemplated for portions of Montgomery, Prince George’s and Fairfax counties. In every locality, within and beyond the Beltway, the same issues dominate the controversy: density and traffic.

People naturally resist change and cling to the status quo when they believe change will adversely affect their interests, especially their interest in driving unencumbered. Perceiving that increased density means increased traffic congestion, voters are understandably skeptical about any plan calling for higher densities, even if the plan also calls for transportation improvements.

Yet despite the merits of a plan, there always will be opponents unwilling to consider how the future could and should change. Voters tend to worry about only one thing: being stuck in ever-worsening traffic. Thus master-plan adoption ultimately depends on courageous political leaders who, unlike opponents, are willing to plan for the future and accept the risks that planning entails.

Lewis doesn’t predict or observe how those processes will play out in the planning processes he mentions. I guess he’ll address that in his radio appearances. Or perhaps he’s waiting until after the Sept. 23 White Flint Town Hall.

You can find today’s column at:

Barnaby Zall

Barnaby Zall


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