National Community Planning Month

WRITTEN BY SHANNON ACEVEDO, AICP, MDG SENIOR PLANNER

If there’s anything we can all agree on, it’s that 2020 has been a year like no other. COVID-19 forced us to work differently, communicate differently, and live differently. We’ve all been affected by the pandemic, some having faced serious hardship, and no clear line of sight on the finish line for this thing. In the midst of uncertainty, I’d like to offer an optimist’s perspective of what can be gained by this surreal year we’ve experienced. It’s a chance to reset, to rethink how we plan for the future, and this can be invigorating. It’s what I love about being a planner. We don’t have to accept the status quo; we can think about how things could be. What may have worked a year ago is not so relevant today and we’ve learned to adapt quickly in so many ways including teleworking, communicating with people virtually, vigorous improvements to health standards and processes, and rethinking how to best use space. And that is just the beginning.  

The silver lining of COVID-19 is that people have been jarred from their everyday thinking and approach. Having been forced to make systematic changes to not just organizations, but lifestyles, and ways of doing things, I think people are more malleable to testing out new ideas and more willing to make bolder choices. This is particularly important when it comes to land planning, because the decisions we make today will affect the lives of future generations. How we decide to use land, how we navigate our built environment, and how we prioritize infrastructure improvements will shape our lifestyles for years to come and will affect our resilience as a community in the future 

In a recent planning event on Smart Cities, I learned about several recent initiatives that inspire me to think creatively about what comes next in our field of planning. From technologies that use information to predict where traffic accidents will occur, to monitoring flooding risk spatially through St. Augustine, to integrating nonprofit and public resources for a higher response to 211 high need resident callers, there is some amazing planning work being done right now. It’s about taking an innovative approach to think about planning from a holistic level and connecting resources from multiple fields. The common thread I noticed about these exciting new ideas and initiatives is that they each formed by the collaboration of multiple organizations, disciplines, and/or industries. By connecting people and resources together, we can better solve the problems that come our way – even the ones we don’t know about yet. To me, that is the key to planning for the future and making ourselves resilient to the next major challenge that comes our way.