Planning for buildings, or planning for people?

This question is the premise of my senior thesis. I am asking the question of whether our current planning techniques are simply planning for the built environment and not necessarily for the people who inhabit that built environment.

This was never a problem until more recent times as places were built around people and the activities they perform. We are now building our environment to fit a financial model, corporate goal, or a well-intended comprehensive plan if we are so lucky. But even in the best example things like land use patterns seem to regulate on a non-living level. I tend to think we should be planning and regulating with the living in mind.

When we build subdivisions and neighborhoods is what we’re trying to set out to accomplish building setbacks, lot sizes and building heights? Or is what we’re really trying to accomplish a matter of livability and sense of place?

Casual interactions between people buying food from street vendor

It seems to be that different types of uses generate different types of activities (i.e. coffee shop vs. post office), and that different densities generate different levels of activities (i.e. downtown vs. suburban track housing). So I ask the question, should we be planning based on the premise of human interaction and activity instead of land use or form?

If a neighborhood wants to be quieter than a downtown then can’t we plan for lower densities so that lower levels of activities occur? If we want a variety of interactions to occur from an intimate conversation to a casual head nod should we actually be planning for a variety of the uses that promote such interactions?

People tend to follow the see and be seen theology where they like to see others while they also desire to be seen by others when out in public

The reason I ask is because as well as the planning process is thought out, it is as equally ill-delivered. People in the suburbs want a sense of place and a sense of belonging just as much as someone who lives in a brick walk-up. We need to start planning in a way that creates such an environment for the people living in our cities and towns, and not just hoping that things adjust to the way things are going now.

By Randy A. Simes

Randy is an award-winning urban planner who founded UrbanCincy in May 2007. He grew up on Cincinnati’s west side in Covedale, and graduated from the University of Cincinnati’s nationally acclaimed School of Planning in June 2009. In addition to maintaining ownership and serving as the managing editor for UrbanCincy, Randy has worked professionally as a planning consultant throughout the United States, Korea and the Middle East. After brief stints in Atlanta and Chicago, he currently lives in the Daechi neighborhood of Seoul’s Gangnam district.