Smart cities with proud citizenry and numerous amenities don’t just happen. Someone unknown to most of us researches, argues for and plans the very best of them. To that end, we heartily welcome to Waco a thousand or so members of the American Planning Association’s Texas chapter. City planners, planning and zoning commissioners and consultants are meeting at Waco Convention Center for their annual conference. Between workshops, forums and short courses on planning for urban livability for seniors; addressing gentrification; strategy for combating flooding on the scale of Hurricane Harvey’s rain dump; accommodating historic buildings; and even investing in healthy urban trees (try watering them!), conference participants are seizing opportunities to gauge the growth underway in Waco, including (naturally) Magnolia Market at the Silos. A 1.6-mile afternoon walking tour of downtown Waco is being led by local planners today. A bike tour along the Brazos is also planned.
“All of us would like to do for our communities what Waco has done for its in revitalization, walkability and variety of housing choices,” association executive administrator Mike McAnelly told a Trib editorial board member as planners from across Texas accompanied city of Waco planning director Clint Peters to Magnolia Market. “When we started planning to come to Waco three years ago, we weren’t sure how successful this conference would be. Waco has really opened our eyes. We’re happy to be here and learn more about it over the next few days.”
In a fast-emerging state increasingly experiencing significant growing pains, the conference’s wide variety of subject matter is not only understandable but necessary. For instance, participants will be updated on fallout from recently passed state legislation, including ever-tightening limits on local control. This includes new laws impacting local property-tax revenue, annexation and building materials — enough that city planners, McAnelly insists, must be “more engaged and better prepared when the Legislature meets” and, say, schedules a public hearing on a matter that could affect communities. Leadership expert Jay Mathis encouraged planners to not only be leaders at the office but also in their communities — and to surround themselves with similarly capable staff.
Wednesday saw planners from border cities explain complications incurred by constant shifts in immigration policy. To quote Juli Rankin, former planning director of McAllen where border patrol and city leaders have wrestled with tens of thousands of vulnerable asylum-seekers, “Everything is a moving target. Federal policy has changed, local policy has changed.” Fred Lopez, director of urban planning for Creosote Collaborative, a consulting firm in El Paso, spoke of federal policies lengthening traffic delays on international bridges to as much as four hours, with automotive exhaust plaguing El Paso neighborhoods.
Our best to the unappreciated folks involved in city planning, including public servants on planning and zoning boards. Many of us are unaware of all they do but surely feel their impact when planning falls prey to indecision, indifference and ignorance. Welcome!