“The Wealth of Embedded Urban Knowledge”
A review of
The Trouble with City Planning:
What New Orleans Can Teach Us.
By Kristina Ford.
Review by Brent Aldrich.
In community development work and neighborhood meetings that I’ve been a part of, it’s sometimes baffling when a neighbor asks, “when will they (fill in the blank: fix these abandoned houses, build our light-rail line, build a Wal-Mart, whatever)?” Presumably this is the same they who are always saying things (they say…), and if they would just get to work instead, all would be right with the world. Of course, this is not how our city or any other works, but rather through dynamic daily interactions of neighbors, businesses, city officials, and planners. Furthermore, in a neighborhood such as ours in Indianapolis, neighbors have established regular practices of planning and working together for the good of the whole – so questions as to when they will do anything often suggests a level of disconnect on the part of the asker, as that they is usually us.
Part of the difficulty of parsing this idea about how cities work is the similar assumption that city plans are created and implemented far away from the average neighbor. The idea that city planners operate on a level above the concerns of residents, those on the ground, is entrenched is American cities, often in practice, as any student of Jane Jacobs can cite. Kristina Ford’s new book The Trouble with City Planning: What New Orleans Can Teach Us takes a comprehensive look at how exactly city planners work, and why their practices have become often inaccessible to anyone beyond planners themselves. For anyone invested in urban places, this book is a valuable resource.