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View from the Cordillera

A Commentary on Achieving Excellence in Local Government
Read by Municipal Leaders on 4 Continents
Published by the Cordillera Institute
Planning for the Future of Your Community
A Land-Use Planning Checkup (Vol. 1, Issue 17)
What is land-use planning today?  Is it serving its original purpose?  How is it being applied in the early part of the 21st century?  A profession which was just emerging 50 years ago now employs 1,000s and virtually every municipality, as well as quite a few other local-government agencies, have become active participants in the process.  Planning is the subject of a growing number of court actions and, in some jurisdictions, there are administrative tribunals devoted to planning matters.  In this issue, we take a critical look at where planning is today – and where it seems to be going.  Next, we assess how the 'new' planning has impacted local government financially, as well as its impacts on community relations and relations with senior governments.  Looking to the future, we see planning producing some serious challenges for local government.  But, this future scenario need not become reality.  Not, that is, if we pursue the many sound solutions available.
How Smart Is Smart Growth? (part 1) (Vol. 2, Issue 19)
Has your community been asked to adopt so-called smart-growth policies to shape your future development?  Is yours a suburb or rural municipality which is part of a larger city region where such policies are being considered?  In the world of land-use planners, smart growth has become as important a cause as climate change.  What is smart growth?  What are its roots?  How is it applied?  What are its consequences?  Should your community jump on the bandwagon?  If you're already on it, should you stay on it?  In this 3-part series, I dust off my land-use planner's hat and begin to answer those questions.  This 1st issue focusses on defining smart growth, on describing the role that municipalities are expected to play, and on assessing how smart growth has performed.
How Smart Is Smart Growth? (part 2) (Vol. 2, Issue 20)
This issue is part 2 in the series on evaluating smart-growth policies.  Much of what we covered in the last issue was critical of these policies.  So, you may be wondering why you've heard so many glowing reports about it.  In this issue, we assess the accuracy of those reports by briefly noting earlier results from Toronto which adopted many of these policies under another name back in the 1970s.  Next, we examine the situation in Hong Kong where smart growth was imposed by an international boundary rather than by policymakers.  Then, we ask why senior governments want their municipalities – including your organization – to adopt smart-growth policies.  To answer that question, we look at 3 paradigms – rural, urban, and suburban.  Each has its public-policy preferences and, as a result, its own voting patterns.  By studying the characteristics of each and knowing which 1 currently holds power, we can identify the roots of smart growth and its real objectives.  This issue concludes with an assessment of the sustainability of smart growth.  And, as a bonus, there is a reference to an assessment of the smart-growth experience in its showcase region – Portland (Oregon).
How Smart Is Smart Growth? (part 3) (Vol. 2, Issue 21)
This issue is part 3 in the series on evaluating smart-growth policies.  It begins with a warning about the means being used to apply these policies.  Next, it looks at what the public wants and whether smart growth delivers.  Then, we see if it delivers on its 3 stated objectives – to improve the quality of urban living; to save agricultural land; and to protect the environment.  Where its results come up short, we consider better alternatives to accomplish the stated objectives.  The issue concludes with some insights into why senior-government officials push unpopular policies.  So, how smart is smart growth?  You be the judge.
Regional Planning: Should Your Municipality Take the Plunge? (Vol. 2, Issue 36)
In this issue, I dust off my land-use planning hat to take a look at regional planning.  Its popularity had waned for a time when individual municipalities realized it was being used to take decisions on the future size, shape, and form of their communities out of their hands.  Today, with the current push on so-called smart-growth policies, on watershed planning, on commutershed planning, on trade-area planning, and several others, regional planning is making a comeback.  On the surface, each of these forms of regional planning appear benign enough – even beneficial.  But, as they used to teach us in swimming classes, it's a good idea to check what's below the surface before diving in.  That means identifying the purpose of the project.  Will it be limited to planning or will it also have a regulatory component?  Who will have the authority to make the decisions needed to carry out the plan?  How has regional planning performed in each of the above examples?  Has it lived up to its billing or has it produced other results?  In some jurisdictions, those results have led to a senior-government response which gives a hint of their hidden agenda.  Regional planning, in any of its guises, too often serves as a means of advancing this agenda.
Are We Really Saving Our Farmland? (Vol. 2, Issue 43)
For nearly half a century, our senior governments have rolled out 1 campaign after another in the name of saving our farmland.  Today, we have bushels of policies and regulations which claim that as their objective.  After 40-plus years of experimentation, there is a bumper crop of results to evaluate.  Are those policies and regulations yielding the harvest that their authors predicted?  Have they produced other, perhaps unintended, consequences?  How have they affected the family farm?  How have they affected the rural economy?  How have they affected land prices? – and food prices?  How have they affected food imports and exports?  And, are they really saving our farmland?  Is there another agenda behind these programs?  What can local government do?  Even if your municipality is a city or if it's in an area where there is little or no land fit for agriculture, you are still affected.  After answering the questions on the effectiveness of save-our-farmland policies, this issue explains why they affect all types of municipalities – including yours.
Smart Growth and the Ideal City (Vol. 4, Issue 32)
Ask any urban planner – whether from Minneapolis, Montreal, Melbourne, Montevideo, Manchester, Malmo, Munich, Milan, or Madrid – how to ensure a future of sustainable communities and the answer you are most likely to hear is: follow the rules of smart growth.  Even with so much agreement, at least among the planners, that smart growth is the prescription for whatever may ail our cities, there are bound to be a few curious individuals who will want to know more about the prescription before agreeing to swallow it.  One such individual is the author of this commentary.  He not only found what may be the written inspiration for smart growth.  He also travelled to Europe to see, 1st-hand, just how a city planned from that blueprint would look today.  In this issue, the author starts by providing answers to questions including:
What is the origin of smart growth?
What is its blueprint for the ideal city?
How do the cities built from this blueprint measure up?
Then, he recounts his visit to a European city praised by smart-growth planners as an ideal city.  His discussion of what he found is illustrated with 15 color photos.  If you read our earlier 3-part series on smart growth, I urge you not to reread it until you have read this commentary.
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