From our parents wise words to religious teachings, fables, and inspirational stories we see at the tail end of our nightly newscasts, we hear it. It’s the ever-present, feel good message imploring us to “do the right thing,” which almost inevitably means “doing it the hard way.” After all, if being good, responsible, accountable and understanding all the time was easy, this world would be a much different place.
But the truth is, no matter how much we as individuals want to believe we are good people, we tend make decisions that negatively affect others, and often ourselves as well. We do this because we, as humans, will typically follow the path of least resistance, even if it’s not “the good path.” Even if we know it’s not the good path. We will hit the drive-thru chain instead of buy healthy vegetables from a local supplier and cook it ourselves. We will shop at Walmart, even if saving a couple bucks means selling out local retailers that actually provide meaningful employment to our citizens. We will choose to drive, even though we know deep down that it’s bad for the environment, bad for our health, and bad for our infrastructure.
With regard to our cities and communities, this is an innate truth that urban planners, activists and influencers know all too well. We are keenly aware that, without fail, the steps that need to be taken to revive our cities, empower our citizens and remake our urban landscapes mean that “doing it the hard way” is the only way going forward. So essentially, the job of the urban planner is to make “the hard way” easier and more attractive. It’s understanding that, most of the time, people will make the easy choice, regardless of whether it’s better in the long run for them, or for society as a whole. It’s about incentivizing employers to offer transit passes to employees. It’s designing urban space that allows people to leave their car behind and explore their city on foot. It’s creating an urban core that makes it a little easier for people to make the harder and more important choices.
It’s about giving people more mobility choices, allowing citizens and visitors attractive options with which to traverse their urban surroundings. It’s about planning a walkable environment that welcomes two feet instead of 4 wheels. It’s about encouraging businesses to revitalize old structures in an effort to pay homage to our industrial, manufacturing history instead of simply building anew. It’s about creating a city so desirable that parking, car access and other urban toxins that have ruled urbanity for years become a side-bar conversation.
Smart urban planning is all about making the slightly harder choice more enticing, more tantalizing and more approachable for everyone. It’s the understanding that we don’t need to dumb down our cities for the priorities of suburban amenities, we simply must build cities that are so attractive that people will trade their comfort zones for a chance to experience urban magic.