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Shaping Our Towns and Cities (IF Discussion Guide)

The 40-page discussion guide, Shaping Our Towns and Cities, was published by the Interactivity Foundation in 2014 and edited by Jeff Prudhomme.  The guide offers seven contrasting public policies to consider when shaping our towns and cities. These policies are broad approaches on how to design our communities; and while not exhaustive, these are mean to provide a starting point for creating public policy that supports thriving communities.

You can view the discussion guide in full on IF’s site and it can also be downloaded as a PDF for free here.

From the introduction…

As we look to the future of our towns and cities, what choices might we face about their design and development? From this one core question many more follow.

What basic vision of community design might guide our decisions? What makes good community design? What makes a good place to live? What values might guide our community design decisions? What if our values are in conflict?

The appearance of a community (its aesthetic qualities) is often a key value for many people. What would it take to design beautiful towns or cities? What about designing a community for a thriving economy? Some people value a sense of social connection in a community. Can we design towns and cities for a thriving community life? Can we have communities where young and old live together, where people are urged to stay rather than move to a new community in their later years? Can we design communities in a way that encourages interactions among all kinds of people who live there?

Cities and towns grow beyond their boundary lines as newcomers and immigrants arrive. Populations change with new languages and cultures. Cities also shrink as industries die off or as young people seek opportunity elsewhere. How can community design take account of such changes? What are the environmental considerations regarding community size or community design? How might we harmonize the constructed environment of our communities with the natural environment surrounding them?

Many community design and development decisions depend on transportation policy. Could our transportation decisions be the key to designing our communities? What model of transportation might we embrace as we design our towns and cities? The sprawling design, or lack of apparent design, of many communities depends on widespread car ownership.

What if people need or want other transportation options? What happens if fuel and energy costs spike to the point where car-centered designs are no longer tenable for most people?

Of course many of our community design decisions depend on funding. Our models for funding housing, infrastructure, public spaces, and so on determine much about the design and development of our towns and cities. Finance models determine who gets to live where, in what kind of housing, in what kind of neighborhood, and with what kind of transportation options. They determine the kind of infrastructure we have and the public and private spaces that make up a town or city. What different funding models might there be?

The direction of community design decisions also depends on who gets to make them. These decisions depend on governmental structures based on boundaries that might no longer make sense for a highly mobile society. What happens when the realities of our cities expand beyond the reach of traditional governance structures? Over time, we’ve seen cities expand into “greater metropolitan areas,” megacities, or interconnected urban corridors with increasingly urbanized suburbs and edge cities. Could we coordinate community design policy across a region rather than patching together policies from isolated jurisdictions? Could we harmonize community design decisions across various governmental agencies so we could better integrate, say, our environmental, transportation, economic, and housing policies?

These are just some of the many questions that might come up when you think about public policy for shaping our towns and cities. What other big questions can you imagine emerging in our future?

A group of your fellow citizens explored questions and concerns such as these over the course of roughly a year as part of an Interactivity Foundation discussion project. Some of the participants were experts in various fields related to community design and development. Others were simply interested citizens. All of them agreed to explore perspectives beyond their own and to develop diverging policy possibilities beyond their own preferences.

These explorations are loosely focused on “urban design.” In this case, “urban” isn’t limited to major cities or high-population centers. Instead, you could think of urban as indicating a settlement where people are living in proximity to one another and where they face shared decisions about how to design and develop the built environment of that community. As you explore these ideas, try not to get bogged down in disputes over what counts as “urban” or over the size of the communities under discussion. In this project, the participants used “town” or “city” in non-technical ways to talk about settlements of various sizes where communities face public decisions about how to design or structure their settlements.

The PDF version of this report is available for download here.

About the Interactivity Foundation
The Interactivity Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works to enhance the process and expand the scope of our public discussions through facilitated small-group discussion of multiple and contrasting possibilities. The Foundation does not engage in political advocacy for itself, any other organization or group, or on behalf of any of the policy possibilities described in its discussion guidebooks. For more information, see the Foundation’s website atwww.interactivityfoundation.org.

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Resource Link: www.interactivityfoundation.org/discussions/shaping-our-towns-cities

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