Urban Planning Through Frugality

An NFB animated favourite - What on Earth!

An NFB animated favourite – What on Earth!

 Otherwise Titled: “The Frugal Consultant”

The variety of places I intentionally visit on the internet is small. One of them is www.mrmoneymustache.com. “Mr. Money Mustache is a thirtysomething retiree who now writes about how we can all lead a frugal yet Badass life of leisure.”

To distill what I like about the website is that it’s grounded in clear goals, clear criteria for success, and generally quantifiable approaches to assessing what will (or will not) lead to those goals. To some extent or another, most of us (unintentionally) subscribe to some external motivator(s) that move us in ways that we might not otherwise choose. This will be your farm someday, son. I’m proud of you being a lawyer like your dad. I need the health insurance and pension!!! I think this is why most people have some kind of mid-life crisis of one flavour or another. It’s only natural to get to a point and look back and wonder, “How exactly did I get here?” followed shortly by, “Do I want to be here?” It’s a reaction to realizing that we’re not as intentional as we might like to be.

The discussion about being intentional in our own pathways is likely a general theme of this blog. The intent of this post is to directly tie the concepts of frugality to planning and design, and to how we approach our work.

I sometimes feel like my goal with any client is to figure out whether I can talk them out of my services. It’s not some strange desire to inflict harm to my business. It’s a realization that clients sometimes don’t exactly know what they actually need (see: Trying to Avoid Work To Benefit Our Clients)… and that I can build value in my client if I can match them with the consultant that they REALLY need. At this point in my career, I want to build value in my network and build value in others. I know they will do the same in me. Then we get to focus on our skills and how we deliver highest value to our community.

I also feel that my goal with a client is to figure out what I can talk them out of constructing. That’s where this blog originates with Mr. Money Mustache. Take a second and read his post Understand the Drive-Through and We Can Understand All Problems. He’s not a landscape architect, or a planner (but has experience in building and construction). He has developed a lens of frugality through which he views the world. In case you didn’t go to his post, I’ll just quickly summarize that he looked at a bank’s drive-through system and saw the lost value in potential urban density. Value lost to allow us to stay in our vehicles with the engines idling. What I would see as poor planning and design, he saw as waste. (As an aside… why is it that we treat cars as the dominant life form on Earth rather than people?? I LOVE this 1969 Canadian Film Board animated short What on Earth!).

Planning is way more complex than a typical person would realize or expect. I fully understand HOW our cities develop (grounded in my mild cynicism), but the WHY is truly founded within strange code and ingrained ways of doing things. Sadly, working against (and even with) the system can be a long and hard road. Our systems have achieved lives of their own, just like the ‘lives’ of the cars in What on Earth!

I grew up with a fairly frugal outlook on life. But, as always, have only recently appreciated how that outlook applies to what I do as a career. I find it easy to try to match the correct level of our services to our clients. It’s much more difficult to match the correct design to the correct client to the correct site to the correct problems etc… There are so many variables and factors, that we get lost within them all. We sometimes turn around and see we’ve put in a banking drive-in on a piece of land that should have had a higher use. We have no good excuses other than we didn’t have the time, or the support, or the societal awareness, or whatever, to stop for a second and think about different outcomes. Let alone convince the other decision makers.

For those of you with means. For the thoughtful developers. For the city staff who use the system for change. For those of you committed to the long fight. I applaud you when you take a longer view and put your money and effort where your community is. Paradigms are finicky. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right words to get people to say, “Oh. I get it now.” I’m not sure if  frugality and its criteria will achieve this paradigm shift, but for me it makes sense today and adds some light for me.

One thought on “Urban Planning Through Frugality

  1. Really respect your maturity and civility Peter. My mom taught me: When you give with/to one hand, you’ll receive from another’s. Doesn’t translate well, but you get my gist.

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