How Can Urban Planning Encourage Altruism and Community Interest?

One of the motives to become an urban planning professional is to help create better living conditions for the people. An urban planner plans the land use in a way that will serve the community best. But what can we do when the well being of the community clashes with the well being of the individual?

Urban planners must often promote decisions that are good for the community in long term, but require some sacrifices or adjustments from the residents. For example, urban density helps preserve the environment. On the other hand, it means less space and privacy for the people living in such areas. Neighborhoods that restrict driving with cars help lower the pollution. However, not being able to drive everywhere with a car can be inconvenient for the residents.

Convince the People to Support Decisions That Serve the Greater Good

We must show the residents how the proposed urban solution will benefit both, them personally and the community as a whole. We must show them that why the good sides of proposed solution outweigh the bad sides. Sometimes people fear change and unknown. If we take time to explain to them what we expect to achieve with the proposed solution, people will be more likely to accept it. We can use modern technology to better present our plan. For example, we can make computer generated renderings to help people imagine how the new urban design will look like.

Image: Presenting the benefits of the new design to the people (source).

It is essential that we build a shared sense of purpose and mission among the residents. The purpose of urban planning and design is for the community to live better than before. But what about those people who must accept the downsides of the proposed solution? For example, existing residents who must accept denser type of building in their neighborhood? What is their benefit in such situation? Often their benefit can be very simple – a sense that they helped the community. When people help others, they feel better about themselves. Architect Helena L. Jubany explained it her article The Social Responsibility of Architects: “Most people give because what we get back makes us feel a sense of purpose about ourselves, our society, and our lives”.

Convincing people to accept a proposal is often hard. We get faced with resistance. But, as former Cleveland Urban Planning Director Norm Krumholz has said: “…if planners consistently place before their political superiors analyses, policies, and recommendations which lead to greater equity, and if they are willing to publicly join in the fight for the adoption of these recommendations, some of them will be adopted when the time is ripe.”

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