Of late, a lot of ink has been spilled about the migration of people back into the city. The good news about the economic, social, and cultural implications of new life in the urban core is welcome. More efficient because of their density, our cities also have emerged as fertile ecologies that foster creativity and advance a more sustainable lifestyle.

Less noticed or commented on has been the reverse migration of the poor and immigrants out of the city into the suburbs. Yet both movements have much in common. Whatever the direction, into or out of the city, those on the move are in search of jobs as well as affordable, quality housing.

Design professions have little influence over the dismal unemployment picture. If we get busier, more construction jobs follow. We have a real effect on the morphology of housing, however. What, how, and where we build are critical if our cities are not to become gated precincts for the well-off, and the suburbs tomorrow’s wastelands.

To put this another way, the design and construction of housing can no longer be piecemeal—here a house, there a house; here a development, there a development. We need to be thinking holistically.

This does not mean reverting to the kind of master planning that rearranged our cities and surrounding suburbs after 1945. Government has neither the appetite nor the resources to bankroll the big-picture programs that gave us the Interstate Highway System and urban removal.

Moreover, we have been humbled—and rightly so—by the unanticipated consequences of top-down planning that often was deaf to what it takes to encourage and sustain vibrant communities.

However, neither government paralysis nor our past mistakes diminishes the need to invest in comprehensive planning whose keystone is where and how we live. Whether the subject is affordability, mobility, the care of the growing number of elderly, the increasing diversity of our communities, or the fact that more of us are choosing to live alone, we need to design and build as if what we do truly matters. And I believe it does.

As citizens we have responsibilities to one another. This may be a good time to remember that whatever the future holds, we’re all in this together.

Jeff Potter, FAIA, 2012 President