The Challenges We Face

I’m here at work creating a list of the challenges we (our firm) face in our work. The next task: to create a list of the problems our clients face. Yet, I find it much easier to view Planet Earth as our client, and its challenges are indeed many.

While I list these threats—all very significant, all looming—I feel surprisingly less uneasy as I would have expected. In fact, I feel relieved; as if listing these massive problems will help me wrap my brain around them, and guide every action from this day forward in an effort to address, resolve, or at least pacify them somewhat.

They are, nevertheless, monumental. My list evolved:

  • Depleted resources
  • Social unrest
  • A changing climate
  • Extreme weather events
  • Global habitat destruction/loss and global species extinction
  • Pollution and contamination of all Earth’s ecosystems (including the omnipresence of trash)
  • Continued and potentially increasing violence, at many scales
  • Extreme population growth
  • Energy dependence (rather than self-reliance)
  • Loss of human interaction; society becomes a slave to technology
  • Worldwide hunger
  • Economic instability (on a national level) and poverty (on the individual level [albeit an issue tied to the entirety of society])
  • Globalization (including the spread of invasive, non-native species and the loss of culture and individuality)

Putting these worries to paper was therapeutic, but putting pen to paper is not a solution. The step, now, is to DO SOMETHING. And every person, no matter how small, has the ability to affect great change. This list will be in the back of my mind, a constant reminder of what I’m fighting for: a safer, healthier, inclusive, equitable, “greener,” cultural, and more sustainable and resilient Earth.

It’s no easy task, but I remain ever the optimist. With collaboration and a concerted effort, we can quell these noisy threats.

Baltimore Riots … Blame the Urban Planner?

Blame the Urban Planner

With my City in turmoil, I’ve been asking myself about the role of society, citizens, and my profession in contributing to, and then resolving, conflicts like this.

As a practicing Urban Planner who is relatively “fresh” out of grad school (one year, now), I have found myself wondering these past weeks (well, to be honest, my whole life, but especially in these last few weeks) what society must do to remedy tragic and unequal conditions in urban neighborhoods. As a minority majority member in a City whose population is 63% African American/Black, it becomes an issue about race whether you want it to or not (I know, we thought racial inequality ended decades ago…well it very certainly did not).

Being connected to many white people through facebook, posts this past week have created deep chasms between polar opposite viewpoints.

This presentation, which I gave yesterday morning to the Planning and Urban Design team at my office, talks about how structural racism has contributed to a cyclical and viscous inequality among Baltimore’s residents.

Despite its name, the presentation is not so much an attack on Urban Planners, but a criticism of society and urban policy as contributors to urban inequality and the resulting violence. However, the presentation is intended to be a call for action for urban planners and designers, and citizens alike.

Megan_May2015_TeamResearch_lores links

Consulting in Lancaster City

Not to begin yet another blog post with an apology, but I truly am sorry for not posting more often!

Since graduating with my Master’s in City and Regional Planning, I’ve been working as a planner for the Baltimore-based landscape architecture firm, Mahan Rykiel Associates. In addition, my husband and I are looking at a house down the street from my new office. Should all go as planned (there have been a few hiccups), we’ll be in there next month! In short, life has been great!

Although I don’t have much planning content at the moment—especially not written—I would like to share some of the work I’m doing with Mahan Rykiel.

One of the main projects that I’m working on is an Economic Development Strategic Plan for the City of Lancaster, PA. You can read about the project on the website of our client, the Lancaster City Alliance. In case you haven’t been to Lancaster, or haven’t been in some years (as was the case with myself), I highly recommend a visit soon! The city is in such a great place that this plan, being produced more than 15 years after their previous Economic Development Strategy (1998), is being shaped from a “position of advantage.” Believe me, that’s not just some cheesy line, this city is really something to see! Rather than a reactive, symptom-based plan, this will be a proactive, asset-based strategy that builds on existing strengths in the city!

One of the things that I find most refreshing about Lancaster is the lack of chain stores. Though it does, at times, limit the ability of local residents to meet their daily needs (where to buy underwear!?), it provides visitors and residents alike with unique products and experiences. Furthermore, it enhances the city’s identity as an authentic place, built from diverse backgrounds and a rich heritage.

I credit this success to the strong, energetic spirit of Lancaster’s creatives, young professionals, investors, and business entrepreneurs. There are some terrific dialogues taking place, center on great ideas and inspiring collaboration.

I just got back from my third trip up there; and am still feeling enthusiastic after our Thursday evening public meeting! As a planner, I have never been in a public meeting where the tone remained almost completely positive throughout, where there appeared to be total agreement on many of the points brought up, and where the community truly saw and embraced the potential. I was able to visit a few of our study areas during this most recent trip. Below are some of the (many) photos that I took while up there! Enjoy!

Juxtaposition of cables, wires, church steeple, and moon in the morning sky

Juxtaposition of cables, wires, church steeple, and moon in the morning sky

The Southern Market Center building, Queen Street

The Southern Market Center building, Queen Street

Green window boxes along Queen Street

Green window boxes along Queen Street

Wayfinding signs become attractive from the back with the imposed City logo design

Wayfinding signs become attractive from the back with the imposed City logo design

Commissioned Sculpture outside of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD)

Commissioned Sculpture outside of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD)

A neighborhood park in Lancaster, PA

A neighborhood park in Lancaster, PA

Curved alleys are scatter throughout Oldtown in Lancaster, PA

Curved alleys are scatter throughout Oldtown in Lancaster, PA

The Cork Factory Hotel, Urban Place along New Holland Avenue/Pike

The Cork Factory Hotel, Urban Place along New Holland Avenue/Pike

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

El Jardin, Florist along East King Street in Lancaster City

El Jardin, Florist along East King Street in Lancaster City

Street in Lancaster, PA

Street in Lancaster, PA

Pub facade in Lancaster City

Pub facade in Lancaster City

Downtown Lancaster, Duke Street

Downtown Lancaster, Duke Street

Green window on Duke Street in Lancaster City

Green window on Duke Street in Lancaster City

An arts initiative places painted pianos throughout the City of Lancaster

An arts initiative places painted pianos throughout the City of Lancaster

Lancaster City Central Market Day

Lancaster City Central Market Day

The project is looking at some of the major commercial corridors in the city—Prince and Queen Streets, New Holland Avenue, Harrisburg Avenue, South Duke Street, East King Street, Manor Street and West King Street, and the downtown area. The photos above are limited, mostly, to the corridors we visited this past week (New Holland Avenue and East King Street) and to the downtown area simply because that’s where I went walking yesterday morning!

While this project is still in the early stages, I encourage people to follow along! Search twitter and other sites for #BuildingOnStrength to see what’s happening!

Also, if you happen to be from Lancaster, please take a moment to complete this survey (there is a version en Español).