The Commissioner — Fall 2010

Commissioner's Voice

Affirming Value

By W. Shedrick Coleman
Chair, Chatham County-Savannah (Georgia)
Metropolitan Planning Commission

In the current economic climate, planning boards and commissions are finding themselves devalued by the elected officials they serve. Across the nation, communities are faced with major funding shortages and seek avenues to reduce costs. Planning boards are a ripe target for such reductions because their value is often misunderstood by the public.

The implementation of most planning projects usually extends for a number of years, thereby diminishing their perceived impact. Elected officials are faced with moving projects forward that they believe strengthen their tenure in office. Long-range projects suffer in this environment and the work of the planning board usually falls within this light.

It is important that planning boards reaffirm their value. One strategy is to leverage media opportunities to make the public aware of the projects implemented by the planning board as they are realized. Regular public announcements of achieved milestones can keep the public engaged and offer the opportunity to tout the role the board plays in moving the community forward.

These milestone events also serve as opportunities for elected officials to connect with the efforts of the planning board in a synergistic manner. Additionally, elected officials must acknowledge the involvement of the public and their expectation of positive results from the planning board relative to healthy growth within the community.

A second path is to use reduced development periods as an opportunity to evaluate the success of prior developments. What most communities will find is a mixed bag where the intended (stated) goals have failed to materialize. Getting ahead of the next wave of development in a manner that responds to the current and future needs of the community should be promoted as an act of a forward-thinking elected leadership body.

Now is not the time to reduce experienced planning staff and defer effective planning. Effective planning is not a reactive process, the results of which we will continually find wanting. Now is the time to use our planning resources proactively to build better communities. We cannot afford to spend funds on showcase projects that do nothing to meet the need for long-term community viability. Resources are clearly finite and the public is now demanding more accountability from the leadership of our communities to solve issues directly related to their way of life.

We must recognize communities are living entities where infrastructure links the various component parts, just as the circulatory and nervous systems link our organs. To keep us healthy, planning is preventive medicine.