Background

It has been said that "Jane Jacobs, who wrote in 1960, won over the planners by 1980." This is largely true as it relates to strategies for inner city revival but, on reflection, less accurate when it comes to how our cities and rural areas have been allowed to grow. By 1980, urban renewal was discredited and nobody smart was advocating for more inner-city highways, but the juggernaut of sprawl was only gaining momentum. Anyone who has traveled North America over the past half century can bear witness to how our cities have been continually decanted outward into the countryside, as even the most rural crossroads manage to attract a tawdry detritus of Speedways and Dollar Generals. Sadly, this auto-oriented growth — destructive as it is to local economy, culture, and nature — was often guided by professional planners, who administer the zoning codes and development standards that give it shape.

To this day, the fight for less car-dependent communities still, unbelievably, lacks the full-throated support of the planning profession. The American Planning Association, the organization that has dictated the conduct of professional planners in the U.S. since mid-century, has refrained from taking an official stance on sprawl. It oversees planner certification and ethical standards with great care, but it has steered clear of providing direction regarding the shape of our communities.

Absent direction from above, it is time for a grassroots effort among America’s professional planners to establish a higher standard of conduct. By adhering to this standard, planners will one again lead in the creation of walkable communities that are conducive to improved health and happiness, economic vitality, social equity, and climate resilience. The first step in this process is to build a coalition of practitioners who are willing to commit to such a standard and assist in its proliferation. It is hoped that this coalition will include you.

The document that follows is substantially modified from a proposal first launched in 2022, in the 10th Anniversary edition of the book Walkable City. Dozens of people contributed to its current wording. A protocol may be established to amend it over time, but it should be considered a final draft for now, presented for your endorsement or rejection.

While following the mandates laid out in this document may alone be insufficient to reverse more than seven decades of poor planning practice, it can be an important first step. By signing and sharing the document that follows—and living up to its aspirations—each of us can play a role in redeeming a profession that is not beyond saving, and in making North America and the world a better place.

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