Colin Nekolaichuk is a former Sustainable Cities International CIDA/IYIP intern. He was assigned to Colima, Mexico where he managed the blog Imagina Colima for the Urban Planning Institute of Colima (IPCo). He is a graduate of McGill University’s post-graduate program in Public Relations Management.
A knowledgeable public makes for a productive discussion on cities
I am not an urban planner. Chances are you aren’t either. But if you’re reading this it’s likely that we share an interest in cities — how they work, and how to improve them. Like medicine and law, there is a group of professionals out there dedicated to this field. But how often does anyone outside the profession read an article written by an urban planner? I don’t have those numbers, but I’ll bet you it’s not often.
It is undeniable that urban planning projects touch our lives in a very direct way. Things like traffic policy, building bylaws and public space management dictate how most of us experience our world.
Wouldn’t it be beneficial then, to give people access to urban planners’ ideas so they can understand them and engage in a dialogue with the experts?
An admirable goal, but the biggest challenge to this lies in the communication — how does one transmit urban planning ideas to a diverse public in a way that teaches, engages and empowers?
Here are some guidelines that will turn great urban planning ideas into great articles, accessible to any citizen:
1. Share an idea. Every article should present a central idea of value. Planners are experts in their field, and the point of communicating with people is to share that expertise.
2. Frame the discussion. Why are you writing this article? What are your underlying principles? By making your point of reference abundantly clear, the reader will have a greater understanding of where you’re coming from, and will be more likely to receive your message.
3. Make it tangible. Speak in terms that engage the senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, taste. If planning ideas are placed in people’s lives, the abstract becomes more real.
4. Make it visual. Planners and architects are, by definition, excellent report writers. They produce top-notch charts, graphs, maps and images. Use these resources to help illustrate ideas.
5. Say it plainly. As in any profession, it’s easy to get bogged down in jargon. Use language that everyone understands. When using a planning concept, explain it as simply as possible.
6. Use a hook. It may not be obvious at first, but planners come up with lovely little morsels of information. Here’s an example describing the sharp rise in vehicle ownership in Colima:
“In Colima, a new car is registered every 80 minutes. Currently the total is 109,894 cars registered. If you put them end to end in a single file they would reach the city of Querétaro, 550 km away.” (Ignacio Barajas, Arch)
Use these morsels to hook the audience, then give them an idea to chew on.
At first glance urban planning ideas can appear academic and boring; it’s easy to miss the important role they play in daily life. By applying a little imagination and creative thinking to the guidelines above, abstract ideas become more tangible, thereby giving the public the necessary knowledge to become more involved in city planning.