Old Monticello Road will be one option the team will explore to reconnect Monticello to Charlottesville.
There are many different lenses through which planners view the practice and even more ways to attack difficult problems. This essay frames my Monticello Connectivity project within the discipline and finishes by considering my own role. In between I describe the logic model I use to chart a path from resources at hand to beneficial social outcomes.
Planning in the Public Interest
Peter Marcuse describes three major planning currents (and sub-currents) along a continuum of faith in—or deference to—institutional power. One could argue for many hours—and some people do just that—about the appropriate setting for that dial but it ultimately comes down to the planner’s sensibilities.
Within his formulation, this project would be described as Social Reform Planning or planning in the public interest. It works with existing institutions to make the world better for a broad majority of the population, while harming very few if anyone,1 as opposed to focusing primarily on either the maintenance of social order or the uplift of the oppressed.
My approach shades into Advocacy Planning because I believe that the institutional actors need to modify their approach. As I will eventually argue in my pre-assessment document,2 the project cannot happen without regional cooperation beyond what we typically see and the result cannot be just without a very inclusive process. Fortunately, the key stakeholders already agree on these principles: there is both a physical need and a need for process reform. This project will address both.
There is an additional concern that the typical planning process yields only paper plans, which we already have and that will not be considered a success. The project will need to somehow change that dynamic if it is to be successful.
The zone we need to cross, though spatially small, contains an interstate and multiple intersecting boundaries.
Working a Problem with Multiple Owners
Although reconnecting Monticello is not a classic “wicked problem,”3 it is complicated. The vast majority of the public would like to be able to walk or ride their bike to Monticello, and the key institutional stakeholders strongly support the idea but it hasn’t happened yet. So something is not working. How can we bring about positive change?
First, the methodical pre-assessment will identify key stakeholders and issues and determine whether the situation is ripe for solution. It will be a short report and resources document. Next, a team of Masters students in Urban Planning and I will dig deeper into the issues and provide background, identify options and study contingencies. This larger team report will inform an inter-jurisdictional collaborative planning process and make specific recommendations.4
We are fortunate that, by coincidence, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission (TJPDC) is convening just such a process with a timeline that aligns with our own. Our team will not, however, be able to actually solve the problem—that will be up to the stakeholders themselves and they will have to collaborate on that end as well. The report will identify possible funding sources and provide justification and background for their grant writers to get implementation.
The Logic Model
It is not always obvious how to progress from an idea to a fact on the ground. There are abundant resources both in terms of heritage, natural beauty and a motivated and interested community plus support from key institutions who see this project in support of their missions. The research team and the supportive University infrastructure are significant assets that have not been present before. So too is the moment when desire for social connectivity and the decennial planning window are all aligned. This alignment of forces increases the project’s odds of success.
Similarly, the benefits of the project are manifest: although the outcome will be a trail, the impacts will be much larger: regional connectivity, healthy recreational options for residents and visitors, re-link a fractured heritage (both physically and socially) and a powerful economic driver. These do not carry direct or automatic downsides (other than cost or being difficult, which can be said about any project) so there is broad stakeholder support with only tactical caveats.
But it will require a collaborative approach that is not customary and nothing is guaranteed.
How do we change habits to bridge the gap from enthusiasm to actual change? The Kellogg Foundation recommends construction of a Logic Model that begins with Resources engaged in activities that lead to outputs (deliverables), outcomes (desired product) and impacts (social benefit).
The attached chart identifies resources, challenges and the major intermediary steps: assessment and production of a plan; a deliberative public process and desired results. My approach differs slightly from the Kellogg approach in that it has two activity/output iterations: one that focuses on graduate school deliverables and a second (public) process that it will launch.
Planning with complexity is often (or usually) an iterative process and each step within the larger flow will have several eddies of its own. One could make an interesting map of every stage of the process (for example, the assessment could have multiple rounds of interviews). Perhaps that will be part of the project too.
Getting from Strategic Plan to Impactful Implementation
Although the research team can provide a good report and solid recommendations, it cannot create an actual trail or sidewalk—that will be the job of citizens and stakeholders. Yet, several of the stakeholders have, understandably, identified planning fatigue as an issue and impediment. So an excellent plan that is the result of hard work but never gets executed will not only be a missed opportunity but it will also harm future efforts. So it will be important that whatever options are selected be executed. It is important to begin now thinking about what types of process are most likely to lead to implementation.
Although the student team’s mandate will have expired by that point, we can provide guidance on successful collaborative implementation processes. The UVa Planning Department is very strong in the area of collaborative planning and it hosts a center for mediated decision making. Still, it will be a public process and it will be interesting—and at this point, unknowable—to see how the community will use the project recommendations.
My own role will be a little different than the rest of the team’s. I was thinking about this project before the capstone project—indeed before my tenure at the Architecture School. So, it will make sense for me to act as project manager. That aligns with my slightly non-traditional goals as a student: when I finish school I will not be satisfied with an entry-level role. I’m also training for leadership and I must approach my classes and projects with that in mind.
This is a long-term effort and I intend to see it to completion. It excites me because although it is physically small piece of infrastructure, it has profound community/economic development potential. Leigh and Blakely (2013) cite Luke, et al. to describe a professional community and economic development role they call the enabler:
The enabler is essentially a facilitator. In this role the [development] practitioner is a catalytic leader who focuses on bringing people together and providing structure for resolving community economic development issues. The enabler may also mobilize resources but seldom acts as the sole expert.That sounds like what I am doing and something I would enjoy going forward. That won’t stop when I graduate.
1. A skeptic might ask whether another trail is just another amenity for those who are already doing well and whether this trail could reinforce a narrative of privilege. My assessment findings to date do not indicate that to be the case a priori. The way the project is executed will have significant impact on both questions and they will both need to be watched.
2. The pre-assessment will be the terminal report from this Independent Study course.
3. For example, wicked problem contains internal contradictions and has no solution condition, neither of which is the case here.
4. I am currently negotiating with two possible organizations to sponsor a group of four students to study the issue for the Planning 6010, Planning Process and Practice practicum course.
Carcasson, M; Sprain, L. (2015). Beyond problem solving: reconceptualizing the work of public deliberation as deliberative inquiry. Communication Theory.
Leigh, N; Blakely E. (2013) Planning Local Economic Development. (p. 110) Washington, DC: Sage.
Marcuse, P. (2016). The three historic currents of city planning. In Readings in Planning Theory (pp. 116-131). Malden, MA: Wiley/Blackwell.
W.K. Kellogg Foundation. (2004). Logic Model Development Guide.
Wormser, L. (1995). Enhancements: Getting up to speed. Planning, 61(9), 10.
Map data: Albemarle County, City of Charlottesville, ESRI.