Laura made an appearance and testified at the weekly meeting of the Redmond Planning Commission (PC) earlier tonight, well, yesterday now, and shared some great thoughts with us about our ongoing review of the Land Use chapter of the City's Comprehensive Plan. Thanks making a pitch for public 'pea patches', Laura.
As a Planning Commissioner (PC), my job is to listen to the ideas and concerns of interested citizens like Laura and then articulate a vision for the City of Redmond twenty years in the future. It's somewhat sobering to think that twenty years from now my as-yet unborn daughter will be packing her bags and moving away to college.
Redmond's Comprehensive Plan, which the PC writes in coordination with city Staff and which and the City Council approves, is a vision document that provides the context in which all city planning policies and actions are formulated. As such, I often describe the Comp Plan as a high-level feature spec for the development of a fictitious product called "SimRedmond 2024".
In the Comp Plan, the PC painstakingly crafts obliquely manifest statements like, “...ensure abundant variety of fish and wildlife...“ When asked to do so, members of the paid city staff then translate our pronouncements into specific policy proposals like, “Concrete and other construction debris must not be dumped in salmon-bearing streams.” Subsequently, the City Council debates the proposed policy and adds one or two words for “clarity“. The final result is an ordinance or development guideline that reads something like, “Mercury-laden concrete must not be dumped in king salmon-bearing streams.”
Over the past few months, I have been leading a state-mandated review of the Land Use chapter, or element, of the Comp Plan, which conditions all sorts of interesting and politically charged policies like how many parking stalls Microsoft can provide for its new buildings per square foot of building, how many trees a homeowner can cut down to build a new garage on their lot, and whether flower stands are "permitted agricultural uses".
During the first few Land Use review discussions (meetings occur every Wednesday night from 7PM-10PM on RCTV or on the Internet at mms://rctv.redmond.gov/RCTVLive), I struggled to identify what appeared to be a grievous flaw in the basic thematic thrust of the chapter. Finally, I decided to get back to basics.
Applying simple object-oriented design principles as a heuristic (in the classical sense), I determined the following things about the existing Land Use Chapter:
As a result, the existing Land Use chapter makes it sound like and-- unless concerned citizens like you, me and Laura do something about it soon--will lead to the development of a city in which it's more important for cars to connect to supermarkets than the people who drive them. This might not sound like a problem on the face of it but the probable outcome is a city in which it is easier, safer, and more pleasant to drive three blocks to Starbucks than to walk those same three blocks on foot. Why would we even bother with policies like, "All intersections shall be well-lighted, well-marked, and provide safe pedestrian crosswalks," if we don't anticipate having pedestrians (objects instantiated from the human class) in Redmond in the year 2024?
IMO, the problem is one of imagination, or lack thereof. When people hear the word “Land“, they think...dirt. They heard the word “Use“ and they think...house, farm, extractive industry, water well, street, car, business, car. It's too easy to lose the word human between Land and Use.
As a result, Redmond's high-level spec for future land use reads like the Manifesto of the Suburban CarMom: “Drive cars. Drink Mochas. Protect small children, animals, natural resources and jobs. Grow small business and vegetables if we can squeeze them in along the edges. Encourage the development of more residences with lots of garage space. Provide adequate parking. Attract and retain a diversity of shopping opportunities along main streets and provide good on-street parking nearby. Keep things green and build highways nearby so that cars can drive past the greenery, quickly connecting cars to the places that really matter to cars: houses, gasoline stations, parking garages, and businesses. Provide adequate public services, especially streets. Blah blah blah.”
In my opinion, the Land Use element should start with, “In 2024, Redmond is a more desirable place for people to live, work, visit, and recreate in than it was in 2004 because the city encouraged land use development patterns that are designed to optimize human fulfillment."
If we consciously inherit from the human class when discussing housing, transportation, and commercial land uses, the sky is the limit. In fact, doing so might enable us to consider including the sky itself in our definition of "Land Use". Hey, light pollution is a deleterious effect of poor land use policy (on people). And come to think of it, why shouldn't ubiquitous wireless Internet connectivity be the result of forward-thinking land use policy formulation?
What do you think? Should land use policies be “serious“ documents; confined to traditional topics like “compatible uses”, business parks, and wastewater management? Or is it possible and desirable to draft city planning documents around end users like you, me, and Laura?
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