The Dreaded LULU

Smart GrowthIn planning vibrant cities, residents get excited about parks, multi-use dense neighborhoods and public transit. But there are also necessities that most folks don’t want near their houses or workplaces: power plants, heavy industry, halfway houses or shelters are also necessary for societies to run effectively and thrive.  The authors of The Smart Growth Manual called these developments “Locally Undesirable Land Uses” or LULUs.

Where LULUs get built should be planned as carefully as we plan the locations of highways or bike paths. If, because of a lack of political will or imagination, the LULUs collect in the part of the region with the least political capital, that area will become or remain blighted. Shortsighted politics can put resources in places that compound their negative attributes, this reduces their ability to accomplish the purposes they’re designed for.

At the same time, no benevolent dictator should decide at random where things should go. In an ideal situation, a regional design authority can create plans to distribute LULUs in a way that is both equitable and efficient to the geographic and cultural realities of the region. Then, that planning group can share this plan with the public to try to understand the concerns of the community. Though some single-issue residents can create counterproductive discussions, engaging with the public usually uncovers insights that are impossible to uncover through any other method. Public comment provides a way to bring the views of a wider audience into the conversation and give planners access to view they wouldn’t necessarily hear otherwise.

Power pointOne neighborhood’s Locally Undesirable Land Use may be highly desirable to another. For example, hospitals and high schools can cause traffic headaches, but many neighborhoods desperately need them. What people in a neighborhood say they want should count, especially if that population has been educated about the benefits and detriments of the development.

In shaping a livable city, it is tempting to “eat dessert first” and to prioritize the most flashy or exciting projects, but planning and building the projects a neighborhood may not want can be just as powerful.

About Casey Brazeal

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