Saturday, September 22

Specialized experts, specialized places

In a lecture given a few months ago, Andres Duany expressed some frustrations involved in trying to implement New Urbanist principles in development, even though wide-spread public support is already there.

"Developers are specialized. One of the reasons that mixed-use is difficult is that developers will come up and say, "I'm greatly sympathetic with what you are doing, but I only do houses." And another one says, "I only do rental apartments." Another says, "I only do shopping malls" ... It's all absolutely normative so it plugs easily into that system."

He expands this further. The transportation analysts are well-acquainted with the current traffic models. The environmentalists only know their respective watersheds or animal habitats. The bankers want to finance the projects they have experience with. Each niche seeks to influence a project toward its own goals using its own skill set, and this leads to a preference for a system that can be easily dissected and quantified.

This is an interesting thought: could specialization of professions and expertise into tight niches lead to the specialization of urban land use into separately demarcated zones?

Steve Hardy, of the blog Creative Generalist, explains the need for people who can synthesize ideas and facilitate a cross-pollination between the various specialties. From his manifesto:

"Nothing substitutes depth of analysis and there’s proven value in the methodical and incremental process of specialization—it’s what education, career paths, scientific research, and technological innovation are built on—but generalism is the hidden talent, the missing link. With so much complex information, that is fragmented in so many ways and developing faster and faster, it is increasingly important to have generalists around to make sense of it all. People who appreciate diversity, who are in the know about the wider world, and who understand how things interact are invaluable observers, matchmakers, and pioneers of the inteeconomy."

Is this the role the planner?


J.W. said...

Ok, this is the greatest blog ever. You're totally going on my RSS feed.

Daniel Nairn said...

Thanks, Jonathan. Believe it or not, I've actually been lurking on and off at your blog Speculations and Such for almost two years now. I've really enjoyed the depth of thinking presented in a really personal way.

I moved here from Boston. I am also a graduate of GC - attended City Life while I was living there. My time there was pretty formative for me.

And best wishes on the GRE. I'm scheduled for next month.