Saturday, September 24, 2011

Urban Planning in a Low Context Culture

I was at a conference recently where discussion was made on urban planning.  One of the primary issues was that citizens wanted immediate action to be taken, with little patience for long term planning.

America is the perfect example of a low context culture.  In all our interactions we want answers, action, and we want it NOW.  The majority of the world exists in high context cultures, where, for example, when asking someone to do you a favor, you first ask how they are, how their family is, and engage in a polite back and forth before delving into the real conversation.  This cultural component is seen in America's love of fast food, good service, and in part the widespread success of social networking websites.

When it comes to citizen participation and influence upon urban planning this low context culture comes through as either drive and determination, or as impatience.  Those who can see the big picture can understand the need for long term planning, and take pleasure in the small goals accomplished along the way.  Those who lack this long-term vision, who want immediate action, are seen as impatient, and perhaps end up feeling as though their input will not influence the planning because the "long term solution" has already been decided.

It is critical, however, to see the potential such individuals can have on a project.  In a long term greening of a city, for example, these are the people who will put in the urban gardens, plant trees, and clean up parks/streams/beaches.

So then, How can urban planners plan for long-term improvement and meet social requirements of a low-context culture?

It's simple really.  Listen to what people are asking for, and give them the tools and connections they need to take action themselves.

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