Town Planners as Doctors

By Dom Nozzi

December 29, 2007

I sometimes explain to someone who does not know what a town planner does by stating that town planners are like towns which have a team of doctors.images

One problem with the planner-as-physician analogy, is that the “medicine” we’ve been given by conventional American Planning Association planners over the past several decades has been mostly poisonous, and resulted in counterproductively ruining the health of a great many Americans.

In theory at least, planners have been trained in their schooling to diagnosis a community ailment brought to them, and to recommend a “cure” that will make the community more healthy. An unhealthy downtown, for example, can become more healthy if the “therapy” of the removal of excessive surface parking downtown occurs. A “sick” street experiencing excessive car crashes and vacant shops can be restored to “health” by removing excessive traffic lanes or installing on-street parking.

However, it seems to me that the analogy can be useful for planners who “get it.” I am convinced, for example, that new urbanist “doctoring” is needed to cure the hideous diseases that are killing so many American communities.

Andres Duany has made a similar analogy in the past. He noted that America is starting to see a phenomenon in which destroyed communities (either by natural disaster or car-happy design) must “call in the Marines” to win a battle and save the day (his reference was to the many new urbanists who were called in to help design destroyed communities post-Katrina in the South).

Sure, it is a bit corny. But I think both the “Marines” and “doctor” analogies can be a helpful educational tool when in the proper hands.



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