Here in Canton we are finishing up with our Downtown Masterplan Project, formally titled #CantonForward: Etowah to the Loop.
Etowah, referring to the Etowah River which runs through Canton, and "The Loop" is an informal name for our historic downtown, because it is surrounded by a pair of one-way streets.
The masterplanning process began last June when we selected Atlanta-based planning and architecture firm TSW as the City's consultants for the project.
With this large-scale and revitalization effort coming to a close, several observations have come to light from June until now.
The core reality here is that planning is political.
Not in a Democratic or Republican sense, but in that it heavily involves the general public and local society. Furthermore, because planning naturally impacts lives, opinions and views- whether we agree or not- are all at play.
Without public input, a plan cannot truly represent the desires and preferences of the public. In fact, without public input, a plan is less likely to be supported and implemented.
So, here are six reasons why planning is political.
- Planning often involves matters that carry large emotional stakes. Planning decisions can affect your every day life because the fruits of them are located where you live or where you work. This truth is shown time and again with every land use re-zone, every master plan approved, and every special district (such as tax allocation district, community improvement district, historic preservation district, overlay zone, etc.) created.
- Planning decisions are visible. Buildings, roads, parks, properties are all involved in planning decisions, so they cannot be hidden.
- The planning process is close at hand. Local planning, like any local decision, is easier for local citizens to affect. Unlike decisions made by the state legislature or Congress. The nearness of involvement and effectiveness encourages participation.
- Citizens assume they know more about the subject matter without having formally studied planning. That is because, nine times out of ten, they do. Planning involves land use, traffic, and community character, and who else knows and understands these better than local residents?
- Planning has financial consequences. Where land values are rising is typically a clear indication that agricultural land will be rezoned for a more intensive use. If you factor in sewer and water lines extended along the road fronting the property, the land's worth now shoots up exponentially. Variations of this scenario happen all the time, especially in suburban areas where zoning, road widening, construction of public buildings, and infrastructure lines and easements are installed and acquired.
- Planning is closely linked to property taxes. What is built in the community affects its tax base. That, consequently, affects the property taxes residents must pay. This helps explain why economic development is so important for communities. Businesses contribute significantly to the local tax base, and their presence lightens the property tax load that would otherwise be carried by residents.