Hyperlocal Planning in a Globalized World

Manila skyline through Intramuros old fort wall

Since the dawn of modern civilization, cities have been dynamic centers of life.  Cities are where different people and cultures meet, where commerce is negotiated, and where spaces are hotly contested.  From their ever-changing demographics, to the exchanges beyond political boundaries, cities today continue to be places of great innovation and also great challenges.  As cities grapple with their increasingly complex systems, and a changing climate fraught with risk, the seduction of globalization can tempt communities to take an approach from one corner of the world and apply it wholesale to their locality.  But in the center of all the fast paced bustle of a city is the citizen, who is most concerned with how she will navigate her immediate surroundings to achieve her objectives for the day. Hyperlocal planning and action, therefore, has an important role in how cities should be shaped.

in the center of all the fast paced bustle of a city is the citizen, who is most concerned with how she will navigate her immediate surroundings to achieve her objectives for the day.

Hyperlocal planning orients around a well-defined, geographically delineated, community-scale area that prioritizes its residents’ characteristics and concerns. Global trends and patterns take a back row seat in hyperlocal planning and development, while local histories, cultures, and ambitions are given precedence.

Fiesta flags adorning the Church of St. Augustine in Intramuros, Manila

Still, it is important to not fall into the trap of isolation.  Hyperlocal action benefits from lessons learned from other places with relatable, even if dissimilar challenges. That is why I am thrilled to represent the City of Tallahassee as part of the Fall 2018 cohort of the  International City/County Managers Association’s (ICMA) Professional Fellows Program.

Sponsored by the US Department of State YSEALI program, this fellowship provides an unmatched opportunity to learn directly from other professionals grappling with the daunting task of urban resilience and sustainability.  After helping to host a Fellow from the Philippines in Tallahassee this past May, I have the opportunity to also learn the history and trajectory of the global City of Manila (with over 1.7 million people in the city and over 12 million in the Metro Manila area!) and the smaller, City of Cadiz (less than 200,000 residents) as they contend with the various shocks and stresses their communities face.  We share a similarly tropical climate, where hot and humid days characterize much of the year and typhoons (or hurricanes) are a constant threat. As I write this, Hurricane Florence is gathering strength across the Atlantic towards the East Coast of the United States, while the Philippines prepares for Typhoon Mangkhut.

Post Hurricane Irma tree damage in Tallahassee, Florida.

The City of Tallahassee has recently experienced unprecedented exposure to strong storms, with two consecutive years of hurricane damage (Hermine in 2016, and Irma in 2017).  Though these weather events are not new to the region, a changing climate and urban context have created new stresses on city resources and residents.  Most of Tallahassee sits above sea level, however a significant network of wetlands and waterways can flood, as is natural to occur.  Our picturesque hills also mean certain low lying areas can quickly become inundated during short, but intense rain events.

Meanwhile, Tallahassee is an award-winning tree city, with more than 55% of land covered in trees and shrubs.  The benefits of the urban forest are plenty, from cleaner air, to cooler streets, to even higher property values.  Yet trees also present one of the greatest threats during a storm event, creating dangerous debris for people, property, and infrastructure.

From green infrastructure, to resource conservation incentives, to utility-scale solar power, to community engagement, we keep pushing the standards.  Tallahassee’s newly launched Resilience office, which I have the honor to lead, builds on a long history of sustainability leadership with an increased focus on climate adapted infrastructure, public health and safety, and social cohesion.


City of Tallahassee, aerial view over Cascades Park and stormwater facility.

While globalization brings people and our experiences closer to each other, there are important differences across nations. Still there are many best practices and approaches that can be shared across cultures and practices.  As we learn from each other in the global community, we not only strengthen our capacity to act locally, but we build relationships that can endure the test of unknown challenges ahead.


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