In the fields of philosophy, ethics, political science, law, planning (and a great many others, I’m sure) we come across the idea of a ‘common good’ or ‘public interest’.
While there are certain community interests that may be easily agreed upon, such as the need for food, shelter, water, air… there is often a broad range of opinions on the who, what, where, when and how. Thus the idea of the ‘public interest’ refers to that state of being or acting that is generally beneficial for all. It is about fairness and equity. It is about weighing needs and wants. It’s about finding the shared while respecting the unique. The public interest is a living thing and it grows and evolves as we do.
A Planner's Responsibility
As a member of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute, I am bound to a Professional Code of Practice that speaks very specifically to ‘The Planner’s Responsibility to the Public Interest’. The Code states:
“Members have a primary responsibility to define and serve the interests of the public. This requires the use of theories and techniques of planning that inform and structure debate, facilitate communication and foster understanding”.
The Code directs me to practice planning “in a manner that respects the diversity, needs, values and aspirations of the public and encourages discussion on these matters”. I must also “acknowledge the inter-related nature of planning decisions and their consequences for individuals, the nature and built environment, and the broader public interest”. It is unfortunate that upon designation as a Registered Professional Planner we receive a framed certificate and not a crystal ball.
By planning in this way, it is intended that the values and aspirations of a community will be understood in enough detail to allow them to be translated into draft policy. These policies can then be adopted by Council to help them shape the community in a way that respects its unique needs and priorities.
A shared task:
So essentially it is my job to come to know this community in such a way that I have a functional understanding of its interest.
This understanding is not meant to be based on my gut feelings. It does not arise directly from my own personal or professional experience. This understanding must come largely from you… and from each and every one of our neighbours.
Each of us is part of the ‘common’ or ‘public’ – and while our needs, wants, opinions, likes and dislikes may be completely opposite at times…somewhere there exists a middle which is good, fair and sustainable for us all.