Context Sensitive Solutions
The purpose of street and road planning has been to serve the so-called “motoring public”-those of us who drive, in our role as motorists, and specifically as motorists who are interested only in getting from Point A to Point B as fast as possible. However, the landscape that streets and roads traverse is, except in the countryside, full of people who are someplace rather than going someplace, and who have a right to go out on foot or by bicycle. Yet, with rare exceptions, transportation agencies do not recognize streets and roads as settings for private homes and businesses, as public places that give communities their character, or as transportation facilities for non-motorists.”
Yet it is the local or regional community that probably matters most to Americans, and the interest in protecting communities is a national one. The “motoring public” is a public in need of decent places to live and congenial places to frequent close to home. Furthermore, as one legal scholar has argued, the neighborhood, town, or city provides a mechanism for preventing the undue centralization of power and resulting encroachment on individual liberty-an intermediary between mass society and the individual. Reclaiming streets from traffic and restoring residents’ sense of territoriality or “defensible space” is a critical form of community protection, particularly in older urban and suburban neighborhoods that have gotten caught in a spiral of decay.
Fortunately CSS offers a new way to approach transportation agencies. Properly practiced, CSS is as much a process as it is a product. [Put link here to “Qualities and Characteristics”] Agencies that are trying to adopt such a process need community partners. They would much rather be the “good guys” than the “bad guys”, and will welcome responsible community partners. Agencies less amenable to change — those that dismiss CSS as the latest fad in public administration, or as a dangerous lowering of standards, or as “caving in” to the public misunderstand what CSS is. They may need to be reminded of the existing federal mandates to assess community and environmental impacts, to provide environmental justice and to involve the public in decision-making. As all community organizers know, “those who control the process control the outcome.” The process can no longer be controlled exclusively by transportation agencies. Communities have rights in transportation planning.