Spencer Gardner: Moving from Planning to Action

Spencer Gardner is an urban planner and Strong Towns member who moved to Spokane, Washington, a few years back because it offered him and his family an affordable place to live, where they found a traditional neighborhood they could walk and bike in.

Since that move, however, the city—like so many across the U.S.—has become increasingly unaffordable and Spencer has stepped up to help try and change that. An opening in city leadership led him to apply to be Spokane’s planning director and he was hired to the position earlier this year. He’s been part of several important reforms in the city including, significantly, some substantial modifications to their accessory dwelling unit code, which is allowing a lot more of these small homes to be built at a time when greater housing options at low price points are desperately needed.

Spokane also undertook a unique “interim zoning ordinance” to allow up to four units to be built on any lot—a change that happened in record time compared with the years (or even decades) these sorts of reforms usually take to occur in the typical city. Spencer goes into detail about how and why that could occur, and the way he sees it as a special pilot program they can learn from that may pave the way to more permanent change.

In this conversation, Spencer also shares prescient insights on urban planning and how those in this profession need to find ways to move past talking. It can be more comfortable to continue to plan, as a planner, he says.  We need to turn that planning into action.


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