in Flushing, LTCP, Politics and Plans

Planning Together: Part V

The Wicked Problem Plan

Financial crises, health care, hunger, income disparity, obesity, poverty, terrorism, and sustainability are examples of wicked problems further complicated by climate change, biodiversity loss, persistent poverty, and food insecurity.  The difficulty is knowing how everything happens all at once and why everything is connected to everything else.  Wicked, right?  Maybe not, with a wicked problem plan for knowing how and why all you need is where. The Report picks Flushing.


Flushing, Queens

The planning process for dealing with wicked problems would simultaneously initiate three interdisciplinary actions. Evaluate community business visions, examine technical capabilities, and conduct a comprehensive assessment of community/user needs. If there is a match, you have a plan.

If the geographic units for a constant data flow are clearly established (even as a sketch), it may be possible to fully understand the interdependencies and relationships that reasonably account for billions of interactions. It begins by getting everything to the east of College Point Blvd. to focus on everything west of it with a vested interest. It provides the grist of a plan.

The interest could range from open space access to job retention to affordable housing. It is easy to get resistant to change because the fight is to get a piece of the action.

Beware of the work to produce a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA). Unregulated agreements between local, influential actors and developers are at the core of the accountability problem for the lack of implementation.

The Flushing Creek environment as it stands now has astounding contradictions. The UHaul is readily available to move displaced families while the Assi Food and Households Goods Market is closed. The vitality of the UHaul appears to stay, while the market is to be replaced with housing and the possibility of retention within a new complex.

Permissible data points and technology set the restraints for the capture and distribution of all the business interests. Gathering these interests determines the full effect of the standing Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) as it attempts to alter the current zoning envelope.  These points can also be drawn out for data on a building-by-building, square-foot-by-square-foot basis on a vast set of variables. Of them all, what are the most relevant (see map below).

Another Brief but Interesting Digression

One other vital element too often forgotten is technology demands a continuous ability for experimental thinking. In other words, the process needs art. (See: Galileo). For example, if given an unchanged boundary and the prospect of extensive high-density locations, is it possible for a city’s total floor area to be unlimited and still retain a viable open space ratio? If the answer is an essential yes, how would a rising sea matter?

Back to the Wicked Problem Plan

Extending access to information beyond a library or a laboratory to enrich life requires confidence in integrative disciplines. The tools needed to accomplish robust interdisciplinary methods must first discover the knowledge in people. In this case, the people of Flushing. The meaning of data can be found in a person. Small specialized groups can deal with wicked problems at the local scale. They are strengthened further with rapid communication systems. Where are they? Who are they? They can support a wealth of joint actions and, most notably, a shared understanding of the effort. The grist for a plan becomes known, and for the people, it turns to “it depends” questions.

Apologies – another brief digression

Urban construction is an intentional operation that entangles those nearby. Human responsibility has moved from its single-center (the human in nature) to the duality of multiple centers numbering in billions of known interactions. The new centers are the ones from which gigantic numbers of small groups move toward and away simultaneously.  These two forces circle indefinite urbanized structures and their constructions. One force moves to a center (a dot on a map, the centroid example), and another is accelerating outward and away from the data – from wilderness to farm to lanai garden. This human force rarely recognizes the species made extinct to produce a sweet pear for consumption on a high-rise balcony. The centers are unfixed, always incomplete, yet capable of continuously producing observable results of continuous replacement.

OK, OK, put it this way, the data set has been prepared. It awaits your use. The dots (centroids for GIS nerds) on this map represent place-based data. It can be enriched enormously for the empowerment of the people of Flushing. The data is tabla rasa, and it awaits purpose. Who will use it? Who knows how to use it? Find them, and you have a plan. Is there an MYSQL and ArcGIS person available?

Observation of a meaningless or harmless intervention is now impossible.  Everything changes once an event is observed.  The big difference today is everything in urban development is intentional.  For example, we experience design most often in various symbolic and visual communications.  One of the more relevant communication documents relevant to this examination is the Generic Environmental Impact Statement which reviews many aspects of state and local EIS processes. (see pdf here). The context of a document such as this stands available for comparisons and critiques of impact.

Any course of action involving the manipulation and management of natural resources may result in altered conditions. The Flushing waterway, from a natural estuary a half millennia in the past to the use of waterways for industrial use a century ago, to the attempt at naturalization in the future, can all be construed as having adverse effects, but know this, all action agendas have conflicting results. Thus, the mitigation argument demands an accommodation to what planners and developers know about the stewardship of natural resources including human life quality. There is no bounded rationale insurance.

We are surrounded by material objects that are products of a design process. Unfortunately, a few products end up as discarded material. A recent article on the Gowanus Canal and Flushing Creek by the Architectural League (here) exposes the issue of what development actually costs. Here is a quote from that article.

Bodies of water (the Hudson River, Bronx River, Flushing Creek, Coney Island Creek, to name a few) receive harbor sewage and legacy contaminants. Industries on a rising waterfront risk release of what are called “fugitive chemicals” with every storm. Aquifers, the city’s last reserve in case of drought or water system failure and Long Island’s sole supply of drinking water, are exposed to indestructible and bioaccumulating “forever chemicals.” Buildings (schools and residences especially) harbor lead paint and pipes. The air is compromised outside and in by emissions from highways and gas cooking stoves.

Mariana Mogilevich • May 26, 2021

We engage in work and life through various activities expected of us. We use a long list of organized services. Each is designed to respond to complex systems and environments for living in a city made for play, work, and learning. So the question for a planner serving a community that feels and senses a threat is clear. The best way to get really close to defining the issue is to smell and taste the cash it breaths. Once disclosed Mariana’s critique will not sound like a post-mortem, it would have the sound of hope.

Famous Chinese hot pot chain opens first U.S. restaurant at Tangram in Flushing, from QNS. In the Sichuan cuisine of China, Shoo Loong Kan’s 5,029-square-foot restaurant represents a kind of bipolar urban development. It is unfearful of the long-term impact due to the lack of assigning a share of those costs to the present as “it” looks to the Flushing Creek waterfront.

A Wicked Plan is Better

What is required is a double repositioning of the design problems associated with wicked problem planning in gaining participants within an interdisciplinary forum. The comprehensive plan idea pretends to mash them together, but it does not. The first presumption of planners and participants is that people will move into action based on information.  The opposite tends to be true far more often. People will likely engage in analytical reports based on their independent actions using stories based on empirical knowledge they can explain to others. Activity helps make additional information more absorbable, used, and understood as applicable to a current situation. In the day you are in now. The required steps are to move from the familiar and expected to new experiences leading to new data acceptance. The data is always there, always waiting for reasons that will bring it to use. Once established, reciprocity is formed in the learning experience between residents and agents of change. The idea is simple – accept the wicked and deal with it as a thing akin to bull riding in 8-second intervals.

The last aside. The following editorial can be found in The New York Post dated May 3, 1973.

Planning and Communities

When the City maps out community development projects, it is not uncommon to find that the plans as drawn have familiar features.  It often turns out that they follow the boundary lines of least resistance.

In other words, an organized neighborhood with a coherent development plan of its own stands an infinitely better chance of challenging proposed “improvements” – under either private or public auspices – than an area lacking the ammunition to fight City Hall.

As this newspaper reported yesterday, professional consultation is available for community organizations with such needs from the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development.  Its client is the public.

“Community action” is a familiar phenomenon by now; some politicians’ allegations that it has failed are, in fact, an indication of its success.  The non-city planning centers are productively serving similar purposes. When a neighborhood is told that changes are going “according to plan,” it is important that the neighbors share in the drafting.

To know that The Post is today from what it was in 1973 is to know all one needs to know.

Part VI – Planning Together (Is it Doublespeak?) or back to Index

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