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Planning the right moves

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Brian Mooney

"Smart Growth" and "Sustainability" are hot issues in today's political, planning and design world. While many communities in the San Diego region have been identified by planners as potential candidates for denser, more transit-oriented neighborhoods (smart growth), a number of neighborhoods have resisted these concepts in an attempt to maintain the lifestyle they've become accustomed to. Sustainability is a mixed bag in that we all recognize the need for water management due to shrinking resources and energy conservation but we can't agree on the strategies.

As agencies and consultants are tasked with planning a sustainable future for our communities, understanding these dichotomies between residents and stakeholders is crucial.

There are many examples of the tension that can arise when progressive and traditional values collide –we've seen it with the proposition of One Paseo in Carmel Valley, building heights in Uptown San Diego, density on Morena Boulevard, the revitalization of the Del Mar Village, and intensified development in Mission Valley. These issues need to be addressed through the region's existing planning programs.

Like many regions, most of our community plans are woefully out of date and don't include sophisticated and/or retrofitted features – added public transit options, complete streets, bioretention basins, energy-efficient architecture, drought-tolerant landscaping, safe routes to schools, and expanded parks. In many cases – whether it's in North Park, Encanto or Scripps Ranch – the inclusion of higher density or transit options need to be incorporated. That said, our communities and neighborhoods are each unique and not all should become urban centers. Some of our suburban neighborhoods will choose to be preserved as primarily single family communities with a strong family orientation. For these communities, planning updates can and should be implemented, but focused primarily on retrofitting sustainable design concepts that address new environmental constraints and a changing climate.

Updating community plans is no small task and requires a multi-disciplinary team of professionals that is sensitive to the individual characteristics of the neighborhoods they serve, looking beyond the notion of "one size fits all" solutions. This brain trust should have the experience to anticipate and advise on the needs and implications of change in infrastructure, architecture, aesthetics, ecology and environmental mitigation needed throughout the community while preserving or improving the community's character and values.

It's clear that the time has come to update community plans by applying smart growth and sustainable concepts. We just need to intelligently look at each community, as well as the region as a whole, to find the smartest solutions available.

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Brian Mooney, AICP, is Principal of the Community Planning and Sustainable Development Department at Rick Engineering Company (RICK). RICK is proud to offer in-house planning, design and engineering services well-suited to address the nature of the above-described variety of development anticipated in coming decades. "We want to create new communities, and rethink existing communities, to be sustainable and reflect the changing demography of residents," says Mooney. "We need to design and build resilient communities based on existing community values and culture."

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