Thursday, June 7, 2018

Organic rising: A planner's take on land use & planning

Work with Legacy Trail and Celery Fields, not against them

Herald Tribune, 6.7.18
By Daniel Herriges, Guest Columnist

In a May 14 guest column, Argus Foundation Executive Director (and former Sarasota County commissioner) Christine Robinson wrote that industrial businesses near the planned extension of the Legacy Trail could see their future jeopardized by the trail’s completion. Robinson urges that the county act pre-emptively to protect these properties from “mission creep.”

Robinson’s warning is misguided. The question she fails to answer is: What mission?

The mission of the Legacy Trail is, presumably, to create a major new amenity for Sarasota County residents — one which will simultaneously become one of the region’s largest parks and a vital corridor for non-motorized transportation.

The potential benefits are tremendous, as similar endeavors around the country illustrate.

Why not embrace the happy accident that this rail corridor — whose builders certainly never envisioned the Legacy Trail — represents? Once-industrial and derelict waterfronts in Portland, Baltimore, Chicago and more are now parks and tourist attractions.. . . 

Another local happy accident is the Celery Fields. Robinson spent much of her column discussing last summer’s contentious decision not to allow a recycling facility on surplus, county-owned land adjacent to the beloved birding destination. But she draws precisely the wrong lessons from it.

Robinson’s premise that an injustice was done in the Celery Fields case rests on decades-old planning documents which describe the area as future industrial and a “major employment center.”

But to insist that the ideal fate, the highest and best use, for public land abutting the Celery Fields in 2017 was to fulfill its destiny as “industrial” evinces a remarkable lack of imagination. Or perhaps just mistaking land-use planning, which is the means to a variety of ends, for an end in itself.

This is a common malady: an overly prescriptive, “SimCity” approach to planning. In 1938, the American Institute of Planners stated as the purpose of the discipline “determination of the comprehensive arrangement of land uses and land occupancy and the regulation thereof.” In other words, “We’re gonna tell you what goes where.”

Most modern-day planners don’t view that as an ideal. Instead, we recognize the value of happy accidents. Nearly all great places arise organically, because someone did something on their land that made others want to be near. That has happened with the Celery Fields. And it is happening in the Packinghouse District, a cluster of very successful, distinctive local businesses just across I-75 from the Celery Fields.

Robinson is correct that industry, a source of living-wage jobs not tied to tourism, is important to our economic health. The County Commission could direct staff to study barriers to industrial development: Are we losing these jobs for lack of suitable land? If so, we should tackle this problem head-on. Modern manufacturing is often quiet and non-polluting, and potentially compatible in many locations from which it is currently excluded.

The role of land-use planning is to promote the public interest, not to insulate incumbent land owners and businesses from change. 
Daniel Herriges is an urban planner and a regular contributor to Strong Towns, a nonprofit organization which supports a model of development that allows cities to become financially strong and resilient. He lives in Sarasota.

-- Further Reading -- 

Robinson: Industrial and commercial properties need protection from Legacy Trail mission creep

Jono Miller: Miller: Argus concerns over Legacy Trail not based on facts

Bob Clark: Irony in Argus executive warning of ‘mission creep’ 

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