Iterative Planning

For good reason, planners are forced to consider decision for long periods of time.  Access to capital takes time, and because it is scarce, funders need to be sure investments are well-vetted and that many benefits will result. While I not only understand this necessity, but also appreciate such a forward-looking and long-term field, still I look to the tech world in envy for its rapid prototyping, iteration, and satisfaction with back-of-the-envelope calculations to justify experimentation.  Look at the speed of innovation in that field.  With the UK internet industry alone worth £100 billion, one could argue that more is at stake in their field than in ours (in the US, the last federal transportation bill set aside just $470 million annually). A balance is being sought between the two philosophies – slow, methodical decision-making vs. quick but data-backed experimentation – on San Francisco’s streets.  The city has found flexibility in pilot programs such as forcing private vehicles off Market Street, the pavement-to-parks program and newly-implemented mobile parklets.

However, what is still lacking in planning is data.  That’s one reason why technologists are so able to implement, test, change, and move on productively and efficiently.  There are clear performance measures and clear evidence when targets are not met.

This post is as much a statement of frustration as it is a plea for more focus on data in planning.  A recent post shared a video of mayoral candidates’ views of Gov 2.0 and open data, and highlighted the spectrum of perspectives on and understanding of the subject.  With the right person in office, the movement could become institutionalized, and planners should be verbal and enthusiastic about that prospect.  Planners need to be data-savvy and data-hungry.  We need to build programs like these into our plans today, where data is not only open to the public but open and accessible interdepartmentally, so planning can become more nimble.  Only then will we approach efficiency, more efficiently.

- Terra Curtis