Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith

Let’s never stop our forward-thinking about how we can plan to help our businesses and our community.

In many ways, we are navigating uncharted territory, but as some planners, urban designers, preservationists, and developers in my professional network have reminded me recently that in some ways we’ve been here before.

In the midst of the pandemic, buzzwords like “density” and “urban” that were trending positively pre-pandemic have taken on a negative connotation. Yet as David Dixon, Vice President of Planning and Urban Design with one of the premiere planning firms in the nation, recently pointed out in an article for the Congress of the New Urbanism (CNU) journal Public Square, “These same clouds took shape in the aftermath of 9/11, when influential articles like Wired’s Blueprint for a Better City proclaimed “Density Kills,” and called for a return to safer suburbs.” As it turned out, it is a credit to our nation that communities were able to learn important lessons from 9/11 and rather than abandon their approach of promoting denser and walkable downtowns, they enriched their plans with strategies for creating more livable, equitable, safer, and resilient communities. As another colleague Sharon Woods points out, “Walkable communities will continue to be viewed as ideal for live, work, and play – but more responsibility will fall on community planners to accommodate new desires, needs, and expectations.

In Dixon’s article, he challenged communities to consider three critical questions that have preoccupied me all week:

  1. Will all the work put into plans that cities were working on at the time the pandemic began – and the considerable community engagement that they were grounded in – still matter?
  2. When it is over, will the current crisis have taught us critical lessons that will continue to be relevant as we move forward in the post-pandemic world?
  3. Can we integrate these lessons into the planning work that cities were already doing at the outbreak of the pandemic, and should cities continue to move forward with them?

I propose to you all that the answer to all of the above is a decisive YES!!!

As an accredited member of CNU, I want paraphrase the organization’s message to communities across the nation.

COVID-19 has revealed critical lessons that can enrich Tullahoma’s planning efforts.

  • We need to create more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Perhaps the most noted positive change in cities of every size due to the pandemic is that fewer cars on the road means the air has become significantly clearer. As we all now spend less time in our cars, Americans are rediscovering how much taking a walk and experiencing nature renews our spirits and nurtures our souls. I currently do not live downtown but rather in an area where nature is easily accessible; however, there are many residents who live in sections of town where this is not the case. Now is not the time to give up on plans for providing public spaces so that all members of our community can enjoy the same benefits of time spent outdoors.
  • We need to create healthier communities. According to Woods, “The pandemic has placed an incredible burden on our health care system – leading to the loss of lives of the most vulnerable populations. The health care industry is reporting that for the younger population, the most vulnerable include those with compromised immunities and those struggling with obesity, diabetes, and/or high blood pressure.” When we come out on the other side of this crisis, I am confident that we will experience new campaigns and warnings from the health care community emphasizing that Americans must get back into shape. The importance of recreational amenities, including bike paths, outdoor fitness stations, greenways, downtown fitness centers, plazas, beer gardens, parks, and other outdoor public spaces cannot be overemphasized.
  • We have to redouble our efforts to address inequity. The negative effects of COVID-19 measured in both health and economic impacts has been far greater for those on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. We cannot give up on any plans to improve the quality of life for all residents in all areas of our community.

Dixon makes a great point in his article that “Even in the midst of an unfolding tragedy, we cannot afford to lose sight of ‘the new norm,’” which are the fundamental truths that will continue to forge a more livable, resilient, and equitable future for our entire community over the next decades. These realities began well before the pandemic and will continue to hold merit well after this crisis has passed. If you would like to learn more about the Congress for the New Urbanism or read other thought-provoking and inspirational articles published in the CNU Journal Public Square, visit www.cnu.org.

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