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Chapter 1.8

Common Sense
(Oregon Planners' Journal, May-June 1999).

By Richard Carson

This article marks my transition to being the editor of the Journal and a board member of the Oregon APA Chapter. I have been writing a column as the editor for over three years now. However, starting with this issue I am going to start writing about what I call "common sense" planning. The name Common Sense is obvious to anyone who knows American history and the name Thomas Paine. Paine's pamphlet was the single most effective message delivered to the citizens of the day. John Adams, second President of the United States, described it as " a great deal of sense delivered in clear, simple, concise, and nervous style."

The reference to the American Revolution is going to make some planner's nervous. It is the age of the Oklahoma bombing, Waco, Ruby Ridge and state militias. We planners are concerned about what is happening to us.

That is what I am going to write about. I have 17 years experience in developing public policy at the state level and at Metro, and as a director in the city of Oregon City and in Clark County. I am here to tell you the public sentiment in American has changed. It is not the same world you and I started our professional lives in. Our values and our vision of America no longer are valid.

So what is common sense planning? It is what I believe we planners are professionally obligated to do. I believe we should be facilitating and planning for what people actually want - as opposed to the recent planning de jour that some planners and elected officials think people should want. Since the early 1970s we have seen the advent of comprehensive planning, growth management, new urbanism, neo-traditional town planning and now smart growth.

But is any of this actually planning for those who Daniel Kemmis calls the "people of the place?"  Or is this is actually "social-engineering?" I believe that we planners should work to make the dreams and collective vision of the local people a reality. We should not endeavor to force a future world on the "people of the place" that they don't want or can't afford. By asserting our values over theirs we become guilty of a kind of professional fascism.

In the Pacific Northwest -- that being Oregon and Washington -- the state has been charged by its citizens with the tremendous responsibility of administering land use planning. That means we are to administer the existing public policy objectively, consistently and fairly.

Many planners have taken this delegation of authority too far. We have interpreted this charge to mean we now the authority to set sweeping public policy. For example, the Land Conservation and Development Commission and Tri-Met [Portland area mass transit district]  consisting of appointed and not elected officials  have decided to fashion a future that many people do not believe in.

I believe it is this perceived abuse of planning authority that has resulted in numerous legal civil acts of rebellion by Oregon's citizenry, such as:

- Voter-annexation is being approved by a growing number of cities;
- The ongoing defeat of light rail in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area;
- The recall of elected officials in several cities, most notably in Milwaukie; and
- The continued attacks on planning programs in Portland and across the state.

So I am going to write about the failure of planners in this day and age, especially when we have decided to socially-engineer an unrealistic future. I am also going to write about the success of planners when we listen to what the citizens are telling us.


Richard Carson is the managing editor of the Oregon Planners' Journal and a board member of the Oregon Chapter of the American Planning Association.


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Common Sense
by Richard H. Carson