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Michael Kluckner, artist, writer, historian, and lover of all things Vancouver has written a very evocative essay on planning decisions and  planner “experts” versus non “expert” citizens.

Michael spoke on this big-ticket question at a very well attended Urbanarium Cities Debate at the Vancouver Museum. The debate video can be viewed here.  He has also written this article in the Tyee outlining the history and syntax of citizen and “planner” related city making decisions. He argued that citizens need and should be more involved in decisions left to city planners.

Michael draws a strong parallel in the worlds of  the non-planner (Jane Jacobs) and the passions of architects for crisp mega projects, from Le Corbusier’s work to Brasilia, all lines, flowing, and really not about scale or humans.

He also talked about the Davis Family, who in the Jane Jacobs tradition of social and community common sense and just smart savvy  lovingly restored the “Davis” block of Victorian houses in the 100 block of West 10th Avenue. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups  on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental grants or assistance.

You will always find one of the Davis family sweeping a sidewalk, gardening, or engaging with neighbours on the street. They are the picture of what Jane Jacobs describes as the varied talent of good community, focused on creating the neighbourhood we all want to live in.

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The Davis family quite simply embody those people who have made a social contract with their community. They  restored instead of rebuilding to maximum density. Their work is the basis for the RT-6 zoning in this area of Mount Pleasant, which Michael  also mentions in the Tyee article.

The Davis family  are also very principled-I received a call at City Hall  from BC Hydro years ago when the company attempted to crotch drop the large boulevard trees in front of the Davis houses to provide clearance for the hydro lines.  Mrs. Davis senior allegedly “halted” the work. Contrite, BC Hydro compromised  with the city to raise the hydro lines going through the boulevard trees to avoid crotch dropping the trees, and another scolding from Mrs. Davis. This created a new precedent welcomed by other communities wary of BC Hydro tree pruning. The Davis Family do the right thing instead of doing the thing right. They are as close as we can get to the embodiment of a  Vancouver “Jane Jacobs” clan.

Michael  Kluckner sees planners as being part of “changing fashions” and cites as an example how corner grocery stores have been chased out of the neighbourhoods and onto arterials (and mentions how we all want those grocery stores back.)  Planners work to codify concepts like shelter, space and streets and have their own “language” with the job of regulating and also approving development. Planners are addicted to change, as are their taskmasters.  As Michael states:

Fixing things that aren’t broken is a way of destroying the natural evoluti0n of cities. Without the check-and-balance of empowered citizens you get a situation like the 1950’s and 1960’s which is happening again. It’s called “green” now; it looked exactly the same but was called “progress” then.

Do you agree? Should citizens be given the same status as planners in making decisions about the city and its form? Read Michael’s article with his historical perspective of planning  and form your own opinion.