Municipal comprehensive planning: “More often than not, it is a mechanism to wrap a veneer of legitimacy around the large policy objectives of influential people.”


Of course, it might help to make the proper observations, ask the right questions and gather the pertinent data prior to making the decision, then presenting the decision to be rubber-stamped by those who’d been neither observed nor consulted.


… I’ve come to the point in my life where I think municipal comprehensive planning is worthless. More often than not, it is a mechanism to wrap a veneer of legitimacy around the large policy objectives of influential people. Most cities would be better off putting together a good vision statement and a set of guiding principles for making decisions, then getting on with it.

That is, get on with the hard work of iteratively building a successful city. That work is a simple, four-step process:

  1. Humbly observe where people in the community struggle.
  2. Ask the question: What is the next smallest thing we can do right now to address that struggle?
  3. Do that thing. Do it right now.
  4. Repeat.

It’s challenging to be humble, especially when you are in a position, or are part of a profession, whose internal narrative suggests you know what to do. It’s painful to observe, especially when that means confronting messy realities that do not fit with your view of the world. It’s unsatisfying, at times, to try many small things when the “obvious” fix is right there. If only those around you just shared your “courage” to undertake it (of course, with no downside to you if you’re wrong). If only people had the patience to see it through (while they, not you, continue to struggle in the interim).

Yet what if we humbly observe where people in our community struggle—we use the experiences of others as our data—and we continually take the actions we are capable of taking, right now, to alleviate those struggles? And what if we do this in neighborhood after neighborhood across the entire city, month after month and year after year? If we do that, not only will we make the lowest risk, highest returning public investments it is possible to make, we won’t help but improve people’s lives in the process.

That is the essence of a Strong Towns approach.