Sunday, September 7, 2008

"Before beginning, plan carefully" - Cicero

The need for having a community development plan is a requirement of the Planning and Development Act, 2007, but it is also just common sense. Having such a plan should give council a framework for making decisions, and give each city department direction when they're developing budgets and work plans for the upcoming year. As Yogi Berra said "If you don't know where you're going, you'll probably end up somewhere else."

And the new Plan Prince Albert Official Community Plan, which will be discussed at council on September 22, with the opportunity for public comment then, provides some good first steps at setting out that framework. One can't disagree with the statements in the vision, which is how the planners see the ideal city set 20 years in the future - safe, innovative, diverse, environmentally sound, led by a responsible, ethical government.

The vision is a good start. But the best plans say exactly where you want to go, how you will get there, how long it will take, and what will be your measure of success. For example, in 1960, President Kennedy set a goal for the space program that, within ten years, they would have successfully landed a man on the moon and returned him safely to the earth. If any of these elements were missing, the plan would not have been considered a total success. But, going one step at a time (and if you were alive in the 1960s you'll remember the excitement of going from sub-orbital flight, through the successful orbiting missions, through the success of sending more than one man into space, to the final culmination of the moon landing), the entire, long-term plan was successful, because that specific goal had been met, within the projected time.

So, while we have a good start to a plan, I find it lacking in two areas. First, there are very few actions that say how we are going to get to this ideal state. Many of the objectives lack specific detail - there are many well-meaning words like encourage. consider, explore, and facilitate, but no actual suggestions about how, for example, we will "Provide a measure of certainty with respect to future growth patterns" (Objective I'm not sure what that means, or how we will go about trying to do that.

The second area where I find the plan lacking is in having measureable targets. For example, it's one thing to set the West Flat area as a priority area for residential redevelopment (4.7)- I would like to know exactly what this means, and whether other older areas of the city (Midtown, for one), should also be included in residential redevelopment plans. To me a clearer goal would be to have all city streets paved by a certain year. For a goal like that, we could set a budget, and a manageable number of streets per year, and at the end, it would be clear if we had achieved the goal. Another area which deserves some redevelopment consideration is the area north of the river - a worthy goal there would be to provide these neighbourhoods with sewer, water, and transit service by a certain date. This would help to achieve a number of the broad vision statements, and help to bring all neighbourhoods up to what should be a basic level of service in the community. Right now, all that this area merits in the plan (10.9) is a commitment not to sell any more land in the area until it is possible to fully service the area.

I appreciate that preparing this plan was a major challenge, and I commend the city planners, and the members of the public that participated, for their efforts so far. This is apparently the final draft, and I'm not sure if there will be any consideration to making changes before the plan is formally adopted by Council. The plan does talk about the need for ongoing monitoring and changes to the plan; I hope that, as we get into plan implementation, we will find ways of providing more specific details in all aspects of the plan, so that we will be able to assess whether the plan has been successful in helping us move toward the vision for the city of the future.

"When a man does not know what harbour he is making for, no wind is the right wind." Seneca

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