Post Contributed by Dan Ballard, PLA, Landscape and Sustainability Division Manager, Department of Public Works, City of Auburn, Alabama
In his pivotal essay “Solving for Pattern”, Wendell Berry, the great agronomist, environmental activist, and poet, describes “good” solutions to problems of contemporary agriculture as those that are “in harmony” with the “larger patterns” in which it is contained. Conversely, he describes bad solutions as those that “act destructively upon” those larger patterns. All semantics aside, he may as well have titled his essay “Solving for Systems”, as the “patterns” he describes are all products of the interactions and relationships of interconnected networks of living and non-living things. And, although his essay’s focus was agricultural systems, his proposed approach to solving modern dilemmas transcends agronomy.
Whether we recognize it or not, our cities rely on a vast and intricate network of systems, commonly referred to as infrastructure, to support and sustain the basic services and functions we rely upon in our daily lives. These infrastructural systems include our physical infrastructure (roads, water, sewer, internet, power, etc.), our social and educational infrastructure (schools, universities and colleges, community centers, hospitals, civic organizations, etc.), our economic infrastructure (banks, credit unions, business groups, chambers of commerce, etc.), our cultural infrastructure (performing arts centers, parks, sporting organizations, etc.), and, last but not least, our natural infrastructure. The symbiotic relationship that exist between these systems can range between mutualistic, to commensal, to parasitic. One of the great challenges of contemporary urban planning and design is to manage this network of “systems”, or “infrastructure”, in such a way that each is performing at the highest level of service possible, without degrading or diminishing other’s capacity to do the same (avoiding the parasitic end of the spectrum). This can only be achieved through an intentional, strategic planning process, one that involves and engages the community, and, as Wendell Berry puts it, “is in harmony with the larger patterns that contain it”. Well, the City of Auburn, Alabama, has been doing just that for the last 38 years!
The City began its long-running journey of systems-based visioning, planning, and governing in 1980, when the leaders at that time developed its first long-range, comprehensive community plan; Auburn 2000. Since that time, the City has expanded upon that foundation with the creation of its Auburn 2020 Plan, and the most recent Comp 2030 Plan (last updated February 20, 2018). In the simplest of terms, these plans are guiding documents, allowing community leaders to “see”, with great clarity, the interconnectedness of our total infrastructure (as described above) and make data-driven decisions about how to best support the community. It is the recognition of that connectedness that allows us to fully appreciate our Loveliest Village, and it is the careful measurement of it’s infrastructural systems that allow us to manage, and balance, our decisions regarding how to best sustain it. These plans do not guarantee perfection, but, they do provide a road map for the continual pursuit of excellence in our public services.
I would encourage all those who are interested in making Auburn a more sustainable community, to first familiarize themselves with these plans. They serve as a remarkable repository of information about how our City works, what we value, what our vision is, and what goals and objectives are necessary and requisite to make that vision a reality. The knowledge acquired by familiarizing oneself with these plans only increases the chances that your ideas for Auburn, your aspirations for Auburn, and your “solutions” for Auburn to become a more sustainable community will be “in harmony” with those larger “patterns” in which they are contained. The newly formed Landscape + Sustainability Division looks forward to hearing those ideas, aspirations, and solutions and is excited to support the City in its continual pursuit of excellence.