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. To do that, we need a where.

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. Getting everything to the East of College Point Blvd. to focus on everything west of it with a vested interest 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 resistance to change. In this case, the fight is to get a piece of the action.

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 unpromised possibility of retention within a new complex.

Permissible data points and technology sets the restraints for the capture and distribution of all the business interests. They can be gathered to determine 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 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 no or yes, 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. A person represents the only place where the meaning of data can be found. The willingness of small specialized groups to deal with the world’s wicked problems at the local scale is strengthened with rapid communication systems. Where are they? Who are they? They now support a wealth of joint actions and, most notably, a shared understanding of the effort involved. The grist for a plan becomes known.

Urban forms are intentional operations that entangle all life. 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 is moving to a center (a dot on a map for example), and another is pushed away – from wilderness to farm to lanai garden. This human force never 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 a MYSQL and GIS 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 that 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 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 be construed as having adverse effects.

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 that includes human life quality. There is no bounded rationale insurance.


We are surrounded by material objects that are products of a design process. We engage work and life through various activities expected by a long list of organized services designed to respond to people with complex systems and environments for living in a city made for play, work, and learning. The question for a planner serving a community that feels senses a threat what is the best way to get really close to it, smell, and taste the air it breaths?

A Wicked Plan is Better than a Comprehensive Plan

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 a recent analytical report based on their independent actions, leading to the 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 conflict will be there, but it can be worked through in the joy of actually building a better place for all of us to live.

Part VI – Planning Together (Is it Doublespeak?)

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