Where can I shop conveniently? Where can the kids go to school without my having to be a chauffeur? Can I walk comfortably in my own neighborhood after dark?
Part of the problem may be that we don't focus on people and how they will experience and use what we are building. It is easy to forget the old truth that cities exist solely as habitat for people. If there were no people on earth, there world be no cities. So, the most important test of any city is: How well does it work for the people there?
How do we restore people as the focus of city planning, design and functioning? One small change could help. The city of Mountain View, for example, could adopt a policy that all staff reports to the City Council on substantive community issues must include a section entitled "From a Human Perspective" that clearly answered the question: How will this proposed action be experienced by people in the community?
Adding this question to council staff reports would be likely to begin to change how a staff person thinks about the issue at hand. For example, a traffic engineer writing a staff report on the design of a neighborhood street is likely to begin to think about people in the neighborhood using the street in the future, not just easy car movement, and whether there are ways to make the street better for future residents. In my own Bentley Square neighborhood, for example, there is a sidewalk only on the other side of the street, so kids walking back and forth to school on my side have to walk in the street. For neighborhood safety, sidewalks should have been built on both sides of the street when the neighborhood was approved.
And the "Human Perspective" section would be likely to stimulate public discussion, at a council meeting for example, of whether the proposed project does, or does not, meet human needs. This discussion is may identify correctable problems before the project is built, rather than waiting for community complaints later. The small amount of additional staff work that would go into thinking about and writing the "Human Perspective" section might be a lot cheaper than trying to fix problems in a neighborhood street after it has been built.
A city could easily test the "Human Perspective" concept by adopting it as a test program for a limited period of six months or a year, for example, and then having a community discussion at the end of the period about whether it has been a benefit to the community.
Make sense? Let's try it.
Bruce Liedstrand is a former Mountain View city manager; now retired, he lives on Bentley Square.
This story contains 552 words.
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