I recently was termed out as a planning commissioner for the city of Pittsburg. Before stepping down, I gave some friendly advice to the remaining commissioners -- advice which would apply in any city.
1. As no man is an island, no development or project is a neighborhood unto itself. Each project should relate to the surrounding community and/or environment, improve and compliment what is already there. This is not an easy task because architects have egos and developers like to do things as inexpensively as possible.
2. Don't evaluate a project or development only by its site plans or aerial views. A pretty design on a blueprint doesn't always translate to a livable environment on the ground. Imagine what the project would be like as seen at ground level. How does the scale of a building impact the street and the surrounding neighborhood visually? Would you be comfortable in that space?
3. That brings to mind the automobile. Too often, our cities are being planned by traffic engineers where the automobile is the measure of design. We need to design for human beings: the people who live or work there. Ask yourself: Is it a pleasant environment to sit in, to stroll, jog or bike through?
4. East County kids have among the highest obesity rates in the county. Your planning decisions affect the health of a city's residents. Create destinations -- shopping centers, schools, parks -- that are within easy walking distance from homes. Bring back the corner grocery, and encourage them to stock healthy food items.
5. The so-called "good old days" of Pittsburg were not so good for everybody. There were pecking orders and the various groups were allowed to live only in certain neighborhoods. Everything was fine as long as everybody knew their place. Don't be lured into trying to recreate the past. Don't judge a project based on the past or the past of a developer; base your decision on how each individual project will benefit the city.
6. The hills south of Pittsburg are as much a part of the city's identity as the river and the PG&E smokestacks. They signal the changing seasons for us. It is the backdrop that frames the city for the thousands of commuters on Highway 4, BART and the soon-to-come eBART. If they are important enough to include on the city logo, they are important enough to preserve.
Protect the hills contours. Reject the bulldozing of the hills into flat plateaus or the Mayan pyramid designs just because it is easier and cheaper for the developer to build on flat parcels. The homes in the hills -- and there are thousands already approved and waiting to be built -- should adapt to their sloping site, otherwise, tell the developers to build in the flatlands.
7. Think of the long-term when making your planning decisions. Don't let short-term economic factors sway you over. The jobs development brings are gone as soon as the project is completed. Think of the long-term impacts of a development or building. What would the project or development be like in 10 or 20 years? You are planning not for the jobs a project brings today, but an environment where your children, and your children's children, and their children will have to live in -- or put up with, if the quality of its design is not well done and well thought through.
8. Public space is important. The space between buildings shouldn't just be seen simply as buffers. That space can create small pocket parks or small quiet places that surprise or passers-by; or larger plazas and public squares where people can gather, linger, meet and interact with each other. This helps create community.
Monuments like the Lincoln Memorial would be lost if not for the mall in front of it. Could Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech have the same impact without a space where the 100,000 people could witness it? What would the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica be like without St. Peter's Square in front of it to frame it and allow us to appreciate its grandeur. Would St. Mark's Basilica in Venice be as impressive without the Piazza de San Marco in front of it with its restaurants and public buildings surrounding the square?
9. Demand more from developers and builders. Don't be afraid to say, "not good enough." Planning commissions of nearby cities sometimes send plans back to the developers three or four times before approving a design or plan. Don't be cowed by threats from the developer to abandon a project. They always come back with a plan more to the liking of the planning commissioners. Too often the planning commission approve projects in the first hearing without any major changes.
10. Most developers want to make a profit. That's OK. There's nothing wrong with making money as long as you, as planning commissioners, remember that is the developers' primary motive. Most of them don't put the community or the quality of life before profits. It is your job to think about enhancing the community that fosters a safer community, ahealthy community and a sense of community for all the residents and businesses of the city.
Ed Diokno is a Pittsburg resident and former Pittsburg Planning Commission member.