Friday, October 27, 2017

Good Plans

I happened upon a great collection of quotes related to planning the other day and have since added many to my own listing of quotes.  One of the first to catch my eye was by author and systems theory proponent Lester Robert Bittel, who is quoted as saying,

“Good plans shape good decisions. That's why good planning helps to make elusive dreams come true.” 

The value of planning is usually not disputed. What makes good plans so elusive and, at times, can be the source of much contention, is the nature of the plan and its implementation.  Couple the inherently complex process of developing a “good” plan with the acute necessity to address urgent problems like the impact of natural hazards on our human civilization, and the critical need for a “good” result grows exponentially.  And yet planning remains the first step toward doing something about any situation we need to change.

Another great quote in my newly-found collection is attributed to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who supposedly said:

Observe always that everything is the result of change, and get used to thinking that there is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and make new ones of them.

When it comes to resilience planning, the late emperor hit the proverbial nail on the head.  Nature loves to change our plans. And so plans to address Nature’s impact must include sufficient flexibility and contingencies to make them relevant in spite of the changes that may come our way.

The nature of planning—particularly land-use planning—hasn’t changed much in the decades since I started studying the subject. And, as old as I feel sometimes, I was not a pioneer in the field.  An article in the journal Natural Hazards Review from May of 2000 (pp. 99-106) does an excellent job of applying the traditional land-use planning process, based on the “Rational Planning Model” familiar to all students of urban and regional planning, to this notion of hazard mitigation.  Nearly 17 years have passed since the article was written, and yet the lessons therein are timeless. 

The premise made by the authors argues the high value of the land-use planning process in addressing hazard mitigation.  The article states:

“According to the National Research Council’s Board on Natural Disasters, ‘Communities can often achieve significant reductions in losses from natural disasters by adopting land-use plans.’ In fact, the Second National Assessment on Natural and Related Technological Hazards concluded, ‘No single approach to bringing sustainable hazard mitigation into existence shows more promise at this time than increased use of sound and equitable land-use management.”

The article goes on to review features of the land-use planning process that, as they say, enables “communities to actually realize this promise.”  For instance:

Land-use planning combines technical analysis and community participation to make wise choices among alternative strategies for managing changes in land use. Integrating natural hazards mitigation into land-use planning can help a community become more resilient through:

·       Intelligence about long-term threats posed by natural hazards to the safety and viability of human development and environmental resources

·       Problem solving to cope with imminent threats prior to, during, and after a disaster

·       Advance planning to avoid or mitigate harm from a future disaster and to recover afterwards
·       Management strategies to implement plans through policies, regulations, capital improvements, acquisition, and taxation
Land-use plans state community goals, principles, and actions.... Formulated through a participatory process, plans commit communities to action to achieve community goals, e.g., to reduce losses to private property or to reduce vulnerability of ‘lifeline’ facilities.

The article then outlines the primary purposes served by the plan (and the process by which it is developed), listing them as:

First, the plan-making process is a practical way to facilitate consensus building. For example, hazard assessment informs the community about the type and location of hazards it faces, and then the review of alternative mitigation strategies helps resolve conflicts and build commitment to adopted policies.  

Second, the plan coordinates community agendas. For example, hazard mitigation can be integrated with economic development, environmental quality, community development, housing, and infrastructure programming. This avoids uncoordinated and possibly conflicting policies and actions, strengthens the likelihood of effective mitigation, and overcomes the persistent problem of lack of political saliency for natural hazards.

Third, the plan establishes the rational nexus between public interest and implementation activities, necessary for both political and legal defensibility. For example, the plan can document the likelihood of property damage if development is permitted in high-hazard zones, thus defending against constitutional challenges based on claims of a ‘taking.’

Finally, the plan articulates land-use policy, guiding public officials in deciding on development ordinances, capital improvement allocations, and permit review. It encourages private developers to follow the adopted hazard mitigation policy to expedite their permit applications. It is a guide toward coordinating the community’s actions along consistent lines.

"There is no single model for a hazard-mitigation plan. Instead, the planner and the community must choose the stakeholder participation approach, plan type, and mitigation strategy that best serve their needs.”

And yet therein lies the value of a truly “good plan.”

Along those lines, here’s another very inspirational statement from the web page I found, this one by Williams Jennings Bryan, a three-time nominee for US president:

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; but a matter of choice.
  It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

I have only these words to add: 

We have the tools. We can—and should—change our destiny.


Two more great references include:

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