As a town planner well aware of the detrimental impacts of a community that too systematically seeks to outlaw non-suburban (that is, more compact, walkable) development, I was quite frustrated working in the proudly suburban community of Gainesville, Florida. Indeed, my frustration often compelled me to have the local newspaper run columns and letters I’ve written about local issues pertaining to urban design and transportation. The result, too often, was that I enraged a number of citizens and most all of my supervisors. Because of what I had published in the newspaper, the City of Gainesville (my employer at the time) established a new policy that states that opinion pieces written by city staff cannot be submitted to the newspaper unless first approved and edited by the city manager or a supervisor.
About mid-way through my years as a town planner, I decided I wanted to share the lessons I had learned about quality of life, sustainability, and the threats to such objectives. I created a PowerPoint public presentation to describe sprawl and congestion, and started giving the presentation throughout the city. It was a strong indictment of conventional, car-oriented planning ideas.
But again, the presentation made citizens and supervisors uncomfortable. My supervisors soon began to strongly discourage my giving the presentation locally.
City planners are not allowed to have opinions in Gainesville, in other words.
A number of people who had heard the presentation, I am flattered to say, were very impressed by the presentation, and encouraged me to write a book based on the presentation. I eventually agreed to do so, and in 2004 had my first book published by Praeger Publishers – a leading academic publisher in the US.
The presentation became so popular (and I enjoyed giving it so thoroughly) that I ultimately made the presentation to well over 20 communities throughout the state of Florida.
Having the book published and giving the speeches outside of my city were the result of my concluding that I have an important message to convey.
If Gainesville was not interested in hearing my message or benefiting from it (but instead wanted to censor it), I felt compelled to nevertheless speak to other communities around the state and nation in the hopes that others could appreciate and benefit from my message.
Because of all of this, I came very close to running for city commission in Gainesville, largely because I wanted to share the wisdom I had acquired about town planning by being more strongly involved in the community decision-making process. In the process of considering a run for local office, I assembled a long list of things that I thought the City needed to get done – things that I did not have the power to get done as a lowly city planner.