23 March 2010

Ordering The City

Prawfs blog has a great compendium of posts inspired by the book "Ordering the City," by Nicole Stelle Garnett. I sum up some key insights form those posts below:

* Urban planning is best by baby steps and should be aware of discrepencies between the views of urban elites and the other people who live in neighborhoods subjected to urban planning.

* Neighborhoods are perceived as more disorderly than they are when they have a higher percentage of black residents, even by the black residents themselves.

* Zoning regulation is authority to be used particularly cautiously because it often has effectively irreversible consequences manifested in the built environment. Other forms of regulation of urban disorder can be more easily reversed if these approaches turn out in hindsight to have been ill advised.

* Even when single use zoning reduces crime, it comes at the high cost of trapping people in their limited neighborhoods or even their homes, and excessively stratifies the community.

* Urban vibrancy that looks like harmful disorder in poor neighborhods can sometimes actually be helpful economic and social capital building activity. Informally ordered activity is often more structured than it seems. But, making vibrant areas safe for people to be out interacting may require more aggressively interventionist policing strategies.

* Encourage small scale economic activity in cities (including home businesses). . . preserve non-conforming uses . . . reduce regulation of mixed-use zoning and [reduce regulation of] the rehabilitation of vacant buildings.

* [A]n organic order tends to be superior to a government-imposed one; "commercial land uses stabilize poor neighborhoods and destabilize wealthier ones," "fear of the police is also a major predictor of fear of crime" and

[U]nder-policing is a serious problem in poor minority neighborhoods, and minorities exercise their increasing political power to demand that urban officials prioritize public safety. . . .[but] foot patrols and community policing do the most to reduce the fear of crime . . .[not] militaristic “swat team” strategies, which tend to alienate community residents. . . . an obsessive focus on crime statistics likely generates bad incentives for police . . .

an emphasis on . . . “aesthetic order” likely works to the detriment of minority neighborhoods. . . . the aesthetic of the day—new urbanism—is clearly an elite one (despite promises of . . . community involvement galore). Moreover, the new urbanist’s regulatory alternative to zoning (“transect zoning” or “form-based” coding) increases development costs and could well dampen development hopes in poor communities, which arguably need less land-use regulation, not more. . . . the intersections between perceptions of disorder, race, and urban policy arguably weigh in favor of devolutionary approaches to both land-use and policing policies . . . the ability of police officers to exercise force, combined with the possibility that the exercise of force will be unjust and discriminatory, is a reason to approach questions of police discretion with great caution. But, I am not sure that . . . these realities weigh in favor of planners rather than the police officers as disorder-controllers.

UPDATED (3/24/2010) to add a link to a new post in the series:

"[I]t’s difficult, if not undesirable, to rescue cities from obsolete historical forms (including past planning mistakes) through incremental changes. . . former industrial zones, decommissioned ports, and failed, late 20th century commercial centers—occupy big swathes of land that require “big planning” to transform these areas into living neighborhoods. These sites often require decontamination, dramatic aesthetic rescue, and infusions of a critical mass of population to create conditions for safety."


Michael Malak said...

A distinction needs to be made between "urban planning" and "urban replanning".

Denver's network of tree-lined boulevards is a positive example of urban planning -- done during the era of "City Beautiful".

DC's street network by L'Enfant in the 18th century, although Masonic in nature, makes for Champs-like wide diagonal roads punctuated by traffic circles, with Dupont Circle being one of the world's most famous urban places.

However, DC's "urban renewal" that replaced African-American homes with brutalist federal government buildings.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

There is no reason to presume that cities get it right the first time. A better analysis is that the older examples you cite are examples of regulation via public works projects without zoning regulation, while the more problematic instances of urban planning involve actual land use regulation in land not owned by the public.

Dave Barnes said...

Two Words.
Jane Jacobs.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The book itself is largely structured as an evaluation of the question of how much Jane Jacobs had right and how much her intuitions were inaccurate.