Monday, May 25, 2009

Planning Seminar - Last Friday 5/22

If you are a certified urban planner (American Institute of Certified Planners), you must maintain your certification by taking certain approved seminars in an effort to keep current on trends and changes in the planning profession. There was one last Friday and the schedule for the day is above. This was the second year the Planning Congress put on this sort of seminar with the theme of Planning Challenges of the 31st Century...with the subtitle "Unbreaking the Egg..." - essentially acknowledging the multitude of changes and crises that are happening around us at this point in time.

County Commissioner Jeff Koons gave a brief talk on the County's efforts to make in-fill development happen easier and faster in the unincorporated area of Palm Beach County - particularly along Military Trail and Congress Avenue. They recognize the wasteful land use pattern and its dependence on the automobile, to the exclusion of other modes of transit. He also talked about an emphasis on improving Palm Tran service along Military Trail as part of that effort. The County is also doing a lot on a regional basis with Broward and Dade counties, both with establishing passenger service on the FEC and other regional transit solutions.

Most distressing was the report from the state legislature as given by two representatives - Carl Domino and Mark Pafford. Both said that about a third of the legislature was brand new this year and they made it seem like most found it difficult to learn where the bathrooms were, let alone what happens in a committee meeting or how to get a bill introduced. Both reminded those in attendance that moaned against the loss of transit money - for Tri Rail, etc. - that many times there are other items in bills that make them unpalatable - even though the main item may be something people can rally around.

I was disappointed by the talk from the FPL representative and the other speaker. All they seemed interested in talking about was expanded use of solar and how they will be adding all kinds of megawatts of capacity soon. I asked the question about where their estimates of demand are coming from, how conservation fits into the equations and what sort of draw do reverse osmosis plants put on the electric grid (I hear it's significant - RO is not the greenest solution, but it may be the only solution.)

Dr. Jaap Vos did a great job at summing up the session. He obesrved that we have all sorts of MAJOR problems that we need to face as a society that are planning related. These will affect the life and health of the communities where we live - in the short and long term. He suggested - more like implored - that we engage in vigorous dialog about these issues because no one has a monopoly on the truth. By getting together and talking about these grave issues that we face, we have a better chance at finding solutions.

My question, which I didn't ask there but am asking now, is if we can't have an open forum where our input is meaningful, where we are not written off just because we are who we are, what chance do we have of making Lake Worth a better place to live? How do mid-day, little notice meetings help the cause? How does springing ideas at the last minute after a five year process help come to a consensus?

All the talk at this seminar was how we need to direct growth to the east to prevent further sprawl in the west. What's it going to be like ten years from now when Lake Worth is five unit to an acre community - almost rural - consuming more land per capita than everyone around us? How is that not a selfish act? Couldn't our density problem really be on the dais and not in the neighborhoods in which we live?