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The Effective Planning Commissioner

Breach the Wall of Separation

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In too many communities, good planning stops at the school door. For example, there may be a dire need for a new library or recreation space but no funds to pay for them. Even if they already exist in a nearby school, that facility closes at 4 p.m., is not open on weekends, or is generally unavailable to the broader community. School boards may wrestle with the challenges of dealing with some schools that are overcrowded and others that are under-utilized, while planners unilaterally ponder housing policies that will affect the future demographics of these same schools. Moreover, the governing bodies are most often separate, with different elected boards and sources of revenue.

While there may have been good reasons historically for such divisions of responsibility, this is less defensible in an era of growing needs, finite resources, and a citizenry that expects cooperation and collaboration among various governmental bodies.

The challenge for enlightened planning commissioners is how to bridge that divide without dividing the community. For example, it probably would be more controversial than it would be worth to propose an actual merger of your all-purpose, civic government with the schools. But short of that, there are many constructive steps you can take. …

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photo of Elaine CoganElaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.

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