Route 100 Shows Planners At Their Worst


People Most Affected Often Never Asked

March 04, 1992|By Russ Mullaly

Do you ever wonder how much planners really know about planning? Howoften does their plan or design actually fit into the real world? Take the case of Route 100, for example.

Over the years, there have been a number of plans drawn up to route this on-again, off-again roadway. Some proposed routes destroy part of the wetlands area, some destroy peoples' homes and some do both. But as of a couple of weeks ago, the most reasonable idea to date has come not from a highway engineer, but from a resident of the affected area who is neither an engineer nor a planner by profession.

Valerie McGuire, a resident of Hunt Country Estates, drew up a plan that takes no homes and affects a minimal amount of the wetlands. It is not a perfect plan because of the proximity of the road to bothhomes and wetlands.

There simply is no perfect plan, because as officials have vacillated on building the road over the years, residential development was permitted near the proposed roadway. McGuire's idea seems the best compromise possible.

Why do you suppose a person not trained in the field of highway engineering was able to come upwith a reasonable plan after at least seven designs by those experienced in this field proved unsatisfactory? The answer is that she lives in the area and probably has walked around near the path of the future road. She knows what it looks like.

This is the problem I havewith many of the so-called planners and designers. They don't live in the real world. I'm not condemning them all because careful planning has produced many worthwhile, successful designs. But there are some who can't get out of their ivory tower. They don't have to drive the car they designed, or live in the house they drew up, or, for that matter, live near the highway they created.

As another case in point, a school I taught at in Howard County underwent a total renovation a number of years ago. It was converted to what was in vogue at thetime -- the dreaded open space-type school. You know, no walls between classrooms. Today, many of these former open-space schools have had the walls replaced with barriers to provide more order.

When planning for the renovation was going on, as far as I know, none of the teachers who worked at the school was consulted as to their needs or ideas for the new interior design. I know I wasn't asked what I wanted in a science room.

My science area (they weren't called rooms anymore) consisted of an open area off of the main "pod" with several service islands (gas, water, sink and storage) placed "willy-nilly" atodd angles around the room -- whoops -- area. When I asked why the service islands were at such weird angles, the science supervisor toldme they were to lock into modular lab tables.

These lab tables never came, for whatever reason. The last time I visited that school, they were still not there. But the strange angled islands remain.

When the students work in groups and perform experiments related to their science study in the lab area, there usually is an elevated levelof sound because of discussion among lab partners and so forth. In an open space situation, this can disturb your "cheek-to-jowl" neighbors' teaching areas.

I requested rather regularly that a sliding door be provided that could be closed to prevent the above disturbances. For five years, my requests were ignored. Not long after I left teaching, when I visited friends at my former school, I noticed my former area had not a sliding door, but a regular door with a window and adoorknob like the one that had been removed before renovations. Maybe somebody finally listened to those who use the area.

To sum it all up, don't you think planners need to look more carefully at where their designs will go, talk to the people who will be using or be affected by their design or plan, and see if their ideas really work somewhere other than on paper?

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