Katherine Gregor writes another excellent and detailed profile of Austin’s comprehensive planning process. This quote by one of the members of the plan’s citizen advisers stuck out:
The risk now is that the task force – rich in community activists but weak on the business community – will become mired in questions of public participation rather than tackling the central planning problems. “I think the challenge is to realize that, as worthwhile as public participation is, it’s a part of planning, but it isn’t in itself planning,” commented member Frederick Steiner, who is dean of the University of Texas School of Architecture and a nationally respected planner. “We need to move ahead to address some of the really important issues that the comprehensive plan can help address. For example, in all of the forums I’ve been involved in so far, transportation has come up as a major issue. That will require quite a bit of very careful analysis. We also have issues of clean air, clean water, and so much more. … If you direct growth in a certain area, what are the trade-offs? Congestion, where do the new people go, the issues of preservation of neighborhoods and density – those are the big issues for me.”
Steiner explicitly mentions trade-offs that need to be deliberated. Sadly, the existing model of public outreach often is an uphill climb to get a representative sample that is an inch deep, not insight about true citizen preferences uncovered after deliberation on trad-offs. As I argued in a recent post on the planning process, we need to mix up our use of conventional outreach and consider using deliberative polling and citizen juries.