30 April 2008

Against Planners

No profession has done more harm to the American city than urban planners.

An op-ed in Sunday's Denver Post offered up planners as the solution to a host of social problems.

The article pleas for us to ignore the bad old days when:

Planners got a black eye for their role in demolishing inner-city communities during the post-World War II period of urban renewal and freeways slashing through poor neighborhoods — epitomized by New York's heavy-handed Robert Moses. . . . More commonly, though, planners simply looked for paychecks in suburbia, creating communities that carelessly devoured open lands and usually shunned the disadvantaged anyway.

Don't believe the hype from the American Planners Association. Planning is still the problem, not the solution. The problems described in their 100th anniversary report, "Overlooked America" are to a great extent created by the very notion urban planning laws. These laws don't simply need to be tweaked. They need to be repealed wholesale and replaced with very thin regulations closely tied to genuine requirements for providing urban services.

They bemoan the homelessness problem and NIMBY reactions to the construction of shelters for the homeless, and argue that planners "can help enable shelters and transitional shelter for the homeless, fighting off NIMBY voices by influencing zoning and employing conditional-use permits."

Where did this problem come from? Urban planners encouraged the destruction of single occupancy hotels (less charitably known as flop houses) and limited their presence to places where they weren't viable. The zoning laws and conditional-use permits that prevent people from offering services to the homeless, the poor and the mentally ill, among others, are the invention of planners and are the stock in trade of the daily work of planners. Before urban planning established this scheme, there was no democratic community veto on how you used your property. Planning insisted that all new development that alters the status quo be subject to hearings and ultimately the approval of elected officials who are elected by majority vote. Without planning laws, NIMBY concerns are not an impediment to otherwise lawful land uses.

This system has locked in mediocrity, suppressed innovation, and left economically needed but unpopular land uses, like low income housing, without a home.

It is not coincidence that today's most vibrant cities are the ones established before planners secured a strangle hold on property development. The rise of the planners has replaced an ability to identify economic opportunity, financing and innovative ways of using land with savy in handling local politics as the primary qualification for the job.

The APA decries the peril of "the elderly stranded in their homes when they can no longer drive." Why do the elderly live in unwalkable communities? Because planners decreed that residential and commercial land uses needed to be separated into different zones. We don't need planners to focus on "on building more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use developments." We simply need them to get out of the way. There is no evidence that private developers will not meet the need for this kind of development if freed from the regulations that prevent them from doing so.

Planners decry racial segregation and urge people to make mixed race neighborhoods possible. But one of the main reasons that we don't have mixed race and mixed income neighborhoods is that zoning laws and building codes with aesthetic elements actively discourage these kinds of neighborhoods.

Aesthetic concerns, local tradition, historic preservation concerns, a desire to preserve community character and a desire to protect property values are the code words that neighbors use to defend income and racial segregation through the force of law with zoning requirements. These concerns mask illegitimate claims to control other people's property, to fight change for the sake of fighting change, and to give their prejudices (whether or not articulated) the force of law.

The place for urban planning is narrow. Some decisions are inherently governmental. Governments must decide how to deliver municipal services and manage government property like parks, streets, water and sewer systems and civic buildings, and there is no harm in planning how to make those investments.

Sometimes, the provision of municipal services may require some rules and regulations. It is reasonable to refuse to permit five story buildings when the fire department only has three story ladders, although those who want taller buildings ought to be able to pay to upgrade the fire department in exchange for permission to build a larger building. Since public health requires that someone collect trash, it is reasonable to require that property owners have some place to deposit trash for pickup that is accessible to trash collection trucks. Since cities provide storm sewers, it is reasonable that they impose compatible drainage requirements. Since cities provide street parking, it is reasonable for them to require that properties provide enough off street parking to prevent them from overwhelming the public supply of street parking. Fires and building collapses endanger whole neighborhoods, so it is reasonable to have some basic building codes.

But there is almost never a justifiable reason for preventing property owners from putting structurally sound, fire code compliant multi-family housing in single family neighborhoods, or to prevent property owners from putting non-polluting commercial uses with adequate parking in residential neighborhoods.

Denver's recent vote to prohibit new multi-family housing in Sloan's Lake and West Highland by downzoning it from R-2 to R-1 was a mistake. It stunts the health and gradual transformation of the city. It makes it harder for the Denver Public Schools to fill its empty classrooms, while forcing surban districts to build new schools. It pushes people out of the urban residential neighborhoods where it makes the most economic and enviromental sense to build additional housing into new surburbs that destroy open space. It prevents a neighborhood where high income residents and moderate income residents live side by side from evolving (ironically, in this case, the high income residents would have probably been the multi-family unit residents). It weakens the city's tax base. All of this is basically because they don't like the way new duplexes look next to their existing more modest single family homes. What hogwash!

Downzoning is a leading reason why Englewood has not thrived despite its close proximity to vibrant Denver neighborhoods nearby that were not as restrictive. Downzoning doesn't work. Diversity is what makes urban areas so much more vital than the Levittowns of the world. But diversity can't happen unless we remove property development from majoritarian control based on vague aesthetic sensibilities that often merely hide fear of change of prejudices conscious and unconscious.

The disadvantaged don't come out on top in either the marketplace or in political struggles. If they did, they wouldn't be disadvantaged. But they almost always do better in the marketplace than they do in the political arena. The marketplace allows for compromises that gives everyone part of what they want, while the political arena tends to be all or nothing. In politics, the powerful almost always win, and political power takes a large investment of time and energy (and sometimes money) to acquire. In contrast, meaningful and useful economic power can be secured in smaller chunks.

The more local the government, the more this is the case. Local government officials are elected by a narrower subset of voters than top of the ticket elected officials, in elections where meaningful information is harder to obtain, and are subject to less media supervision of their actions. No level of government is more indifferent to the common man and more prone to incompetence than local government. The only real check against bad local government is that residents of them can move elsewhere if their provision of urban services becomes intolerably bad.

One of the reasons that Denver is doing well now, compared to its suburban neighbors, is that it has only a single layer of government at the county level in a county large enough to force it to professionalize and address issues on a policy level, and whose elections impact enough people to make media coverage more thorough, while the suburbs must contend with county, municipal and special districts governments that become less representative and less competent as they get smaller.

Local governments and their partners in planning crime, neighborhood associations, are bastions of conservative local elites (as in "opposed to change" rather than Republican leaning) who smash promising ideas that someone is willing to risk large sums of their own money to attempt, with little or no regard for the systemic consequences of their actions, and no awareness of the harm that they are doing to their own neighborhoods.

If we want to make our city a better place, we could do far worse than jettisoning the city's byzantine zoning code entirely, and starting over with only the bare minimum of land use limitation and building code requirements necessary to allow the city to do its work.

Updated 5-7-2008 to correct typos only (I don't have a copy editor).


Michael Malak said...

Quite a libertarian post from you.

Two nits.

1. "Why do the elderly live in unwalkable communities? Because planners decreed that residential and commercial land uses needed to be separated into different zones. We don't need planners to focus on 'on building more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use developments.' We simply need them to get out of the way."

Planners didn't create the zoning laws. Dead planners did. Today's planners are the ones leading the charge to overturn them. They're the ones educating the public through publishing books and conducting planning charettes.

I'll temper that, though, by saying that the ideal world would in fact have no planners. The ideal world would incorporate your suggestion of no zoning laws plus forced platting of large parcels into 1/10th acre urban parcels.

The much-lauded Cherokee development plan of the old Gates Rubber factory is now hitting some speed bumps due to the slowing economy and illustrates a weakness in planning. Originally envisioned to be mixed-use, Cherokee has sold off the southern half to a residential developer, leaving the northen half to be supposedly "mixed use". Except, oops, the residential component is being drastically reduced to compensate for the slowing residential real estate market. So it's back to 20th century separate uses again. The plan now looks like a totem pole with the RTD station at the top, commercial in the middle, and residential at the bottom.

2. Regarding Sloan Lake, that decision wasn't the result of APA; it was the result of NIMBYs.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Re: Point 1

Planners are not leading the charge to overturn zoning laws. Instead, they simply think that we need different kinds of zones than we had in the past. My point is that the whole premise of zoning, which is majoritarian community regulation of land use even in the absence of externalities, is flawed at its heart. Planners fail to comprehend this point.

Re: Point 2

Obviously, the APA has no legal authority of its own. But, the planning profession which it represents established the modern zoning, and zoning laws are the legal means by which NIMBY concerns have legal force.

Dave Barnes said...

There is only "one true book" on urban "planning".
Jane Jacobs' Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

One of the main urban history/planning books I read (or mostly read anyway) when I took the History of the City in college.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

One more point about dead planners.

Modern urban zoning wasn't common until the Euclid case established its constitutionality in the 1930s. In practice, it had little effect until the post-World War II boom, because the Great Depression and war rationing greatly reduced the resources available for real estate development. For two decades there are very little private construction.

Many places didn't adopt zoning laws until post-war construction took off.

As a result, quite a few of the people who helped write the original planning laws are alive (albeit mostly retired now).

Anonymous said...

Wow, such a withering attack on an entire profession. From a lawyer, no less. What, are so you're tired of the lawyer jokes that you're trying to deflect attention to another allegedly problematic profession.

Poor form and low class.

Anonymous said...

Most points well-taken, but how do you explain that Houston sucks so bad.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Houston is in Texas. No other virtues of the place can redeem that flaw.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

More seriously, one of the biggest insights of Houston is that the main difference between it and other cities (due to an absence of zoning) is that there is more multi-family housing mixed with single family housing.

The parade of horribles which zoning is supposed to prevent don't happen anyway, for the most part.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Footnote: the Strip, where the conference was held, isn't in the City of Las Vegas. One suspects, in part, to avoid city land use limitations.

Deb Woodell said...

I'm in a university GIS certification program and in a metro/regional planning class this semester. The other week, we watched a portion of a video, with Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk strolling the streets of some place whose name I can't remember with PBS' Ray Suarez. The only black face I saw in the video was a black girl being bussed after school.

To paraphrase "The Sixth Sense," I see white people. And I suspect many in the African American communities see white people who got us into this mess and wonder, why we should trust this group...they just seem to want to feather their own nests.

Everywhere I turn to join up and keep informed costs me as much or more than my monthly utility bills. One might not help it if one felt such high membership fees are designed to keep the riff-raff out.

Anonymous said...

Seems like your main issues are with people doing stupid/uncharitable things: Planners didn't make people turn against flophouses or redline neighborhoods! They just have the tools to do something about it - sometimes those tools are not used admirably, but often they are!

Your point is certainly well taken that Planners need to be careful not to bend to the will of the lowest common denominator - but your post didn't mention anything about how planners helped low-income, immigrant residents of overcrowded, unhealthy cities by re-writing the housing codes - or how planners helped create - and are now helping to create - transit networks and bike lanes and mixed income communities. Pretty oversimplifying to blame all the bad things in cities on Planners.

Anonymous said...

As a planner, I find it interesting that so many ills are blamed on our profession. I would like to point out that although planners provide the tools, we are not the decision makers. That is left to City Council.

In the cities that I have worked in, there have been many cases where we as administration have made recommendations that are not supported by council simply because of one or two nay-sayers from the community. The principles of planning such as providing inclusive housing and accessibility that many of us try to uphold do not stand up to the political need to stay in favour.

Mistakes have definitely been made in the planning profession, just as in all professions, but we do not operate in a vaccuum.

Gino the Dog said...

I think this argument is missing the real problem...

I cannot abdicate the entire profession of urban planning. It certainly has its fair share of "dirty laundry." There are planners in history that have saved the city and there are some that have torn it apart. However, let's not forget the trouble that the "free" market has caused cities. Perhaps the most disasterous era for urban areas occured immediately after the second world war. It was General Motors, Standard Oil of California, Phillips, and Firestone (under the guise of "National City Lines") that bought out the streetcar system of nearly every American City, and the federal government followed closely behind installing interstate highways. This was a perfect recipe for the rise of the auto industry and an ascent of Single Family housing in the suburbs, and abandoment of cities.
Planners have made their fair share of mistakes, but I don't think it is the fault of planners or planning, per se.
The problem is the abstraction of human wants and needs and this begs a much longer and involved blog post.
If planners focus on local issues, communicate with more than politicans and wealthy individuals, and work to promote their own communities instead of trying to solve EVERYONEs problem with a single "panacea," I think we'll see the profession evolve into something more respected and righteous.
I do see planners as leading the effort to better integrate communities and promote pedestrian-friendly environments. The topic is slathered all over APA publications. But we need to engage in this effort conscious of who has access to the goods we produce and who suffers from the change.

Anonymous said...

You need to have a few conversations with actual planners in the field. You've based your critique on what you believe planners do in theory, but as a practicing planner I can tell you that our advocacy for equitable communities that serve the interests of all residents (not just the moneyed and those who own property) meets constant opposition - from NIMBYs who freak out when a developer comes forward with a plan to build multi-family housing on their street or when we propose constructing sidewalks through neighborhoods that have none (they hate this because the lack of sidewalks keeps the "riff raff" out), to politicians with their own agenda who constantly take credit for projects that you, as the planner, made happen - only to throw you under the bus if anything ever goes wrong.

I do agree with much of what you said as it relates to the planning practice of the mid 20th century, but urban planning as it is practiced today is heavily invested in the task of cleaning up yesterday's planning mistakes. The "Power Broker" days are long gone.

J Keller said...

I don't think you understand the full scale of urban planning. you cannot just learn about urban planning from books. planning has very little power but through legislation, which is political. i could almost guarantee that if planners had more power our cities would be better off.

you should also remember that the united states is so large that, as you like doing, generalize the entire American planning profession you are looking foolish. each city has its on zeitgeist and its own circumstances. planners are community tools for the people. we can only poke and prod for whats right.

you ought not to spread fear of planning. it truly is one of the most important professions going forward. not blogging. planning.

molasses said...

One quick comment....before I get back to work as a city planner....if planners are to blame for everything, why is Portland, one of the most planned cities in the US consistently held up as a great example of a liveable city....they even have *gasp* and urban growth boundary, yet it is still a wonderful city.

and to just make a quick shot at your guiding ideological prejudice....if the market will save everything, what happens when, like mentioned above, the market fails and industry abandon a city, leaving it lifeless and desolate, like Detroit. I think it would be pretty hard to deflect the blame from 'the market' to the planners for the woes that that city has faced.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

WhistlingPastTheGraveYard: The book "The Organization of Enterprise" discusses at length why NYC co-ops, country clubs and colleges are organized as non-profits with control over their membership rather than for profits to avoid situations like Studio 66 where proprietors profit from the social capital that customers rather than the service provider bring to the venture. By being selective they can keep the "riff-raff" out without imposing excess charges upon each other.

Anonymous 5-7098 9:15 AM: Planners aren't a problem because they are evil, almost all planners (and in particular even more who do lasting harm) are basically civic minded good people do so with the highest of moral purposes and optimistic goals in a system which is inherently flawed at the conceptual level. Planners are a problem because of the tools that their profession has put into place to manage growth which have become the norm are fundamentally problematic in a political science sense, in the same way that, for example, the Iranian election system that has free and fair elections in which only religiously approved candidates can run are problematic.

Housing codes didn't save poor immigrants from squalor. Colorado, for example, adopted bare minimum housing condition protections for tenants for the very first time, yesterday (yes, there is an apples and oranges building code v. private remedy issue, but for a long time when immigration was intense in the state, there was no municipal regulation of this either). Moreover, my fair city of Denver and neighboring Aurora have plenty of overcrowding in unhealthy conditions now despite modern housing codes.

In Denver, planners were pivotal in the decision to tear out the streetcar lines. Urban planning does far more to prevent mixed income communities than it does to create them --- for example -- the subdivision of a meaningful percentage of single family homes that is predominant in much of West Buffalo, which created a mixed income neighorhood is possible legally only with majority vote, which is a lagging indicator.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Prairie Planner: Just to be clear, once again, the problem is not that planners are people trying to do bad things, or that City Council people are either. The real problem, as the post spells out, is the very existence of modern planning which is a product of a flawed political economy propogated by the planning profession. Your example illustrates precisely the problem with the existing idea of planning through zoning codes. The default is restrictive and even a tiny number of objections often kills change.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

DanteSwift: I don't dispute that the rise of the automobile was an important cause of death for public transit and genesis for dispersed suburban life. But the shape those suburbs took were to a great extent a result of the adoption of modern urban planning. We would have had lower density, but less destructive lower density with more mixed use and more mixed income development.

Part of my thesis is that planners will always be, by the very nature of local government always be responsible to wealthy individuals and politicians, and given the general nearly universally adopted scheme of planning, mostly to wealthy individuals who already live in the community, and against agents of change. Trying to use a process controlled by elites to do something that elites don't want to do is ultimately futile.

Planners exist in private industry of course, but they have degrees in architecture and engineering, not MPAs.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

DanteSwift (continued): The bar associations routinely bemoans the absence of pro bono counsel (see, e.g. May 2007 Colorado Lawyer "The American-- Dream Justice For All") much like the APA does. But that doesn't mean that lawyers actually dvote a large percentage of their available time to pro bono case. Talking about it is a natural guilty reaction to the fact that a bunch of well meaning people somehow end up with results that make them uncomfortable because they are decent people in positions that make these things happen.

Anonymous 5-7-08 10:08 AM:

Not so long ago, I spent several days as a guest of a planner who worked in medium sized cities in Northern Colorado, Southeast Ohio, and Michigan and discussed some of these issues.

I have worked professionally with planners in Wheat Ridge, Lakewood, Denver, Grand Junction, and other places. I have created home owner's associations and represented people suing and being sued by them. I have represented local governments in litigation. I've been to my fair share of zoning hearings, and follow many more in neighborhood newspapers and neighborhood association and city council newsletters (who are the main media coverage for these activities). I've had lengthy conversations with city council candidates about zoning and land use.

The "Power Broker" days are alive and well. My views to not come from a lack of contact with the profession, but from following how this situations play out for the last couple of decades (since I was in high school, at least).

J. Keller: Urban planning of property cities don't own is fundamentally an invention of the planning profession. See above regarding my background and experience. I am intimately familiar with the political side of things as a political party officer, law partner of an elected official, frequent campaign volunteer, and former professional political journalist. As my original post indicates there is a place for planning. The problem is not that we have planners at all. But we have given the moral equivalent of paint rollers and spray paint cans to a profession that would do better work if restricted to a portrait painter's brushes.

Failing to recognize that unplanned development has its own beauty and the belief that planners operating at a larger geographic level with no economic stake in the enterprise can do better is at the heart of the disease that afflicts profession.

Anonymous said...

What BS. Planners didn't get rid of single occupancy hotels and mixed use, residents pushed for it. You think planners are the ones keeping mixed use and mixed income out of the suburbs? Go try and put some low income housing in a nice wealthy suburb and see who's doing all the roadblocking. You got it...residents. Redlining was the fault of planners? What a load. It was the fault of racist people in general. I guess it was planners out screaming on the lawn of the one black family that moved into the white town. I guess it was planners that made the lending industry refuse to loan money to black people. Yeah...planners...that's the problem.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Tyson: First, to be clear, I don't have a strong ideological commitment generally to free market lassiez faire economics. I'm a liberal democrat who favors substantial economic regulation in a mixed economy. But, I also recognize that some forms of economic regulation work better than others. Portland's urban growth boundary is a better way of regulating land use than traditional urban planning tools (and some of the better cityscapes like Manhattan reflect natural geographic growth boundaries -- in Grand Junction, Colorado and Douglas County, Colorado there are de facto urban growth boundaries that arise from tap fees for new developments -- water supply and logistics create the boundaries). But it also comes at a high cost, in forgone affordable housing. Still Portland earns kudos for engaging in less micromanagement than some urban planning regimes.

I am, of course, as a graduate of the University of Michigan Law school in Ann Arbor who worked for a summer in Mount Clemens, Michigan, drove through Detroit every day, and frequented it for its urban offerings, familiar with Detroit which is the subject of multiple blog posts here. While I'm not sure that it is a "market failure" in the sense that economists use that word, certainly the decline of the automobile industry has hit the city very hard, continues to do so, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Probably the most effective urban action Detroit has taken (at the behest of ACORN and urged on for better or worse by devil's night arsonists), has been to aggressively foreclose on property tax liens for abandoned property.

But the planning profession has to step up to the plate here too. Why is metropolitian Detroit so segregated? Because surban planners have dedicated themselves to starkly exclusionary urban planning (e.g. in the Grosse Point neighborhoods of huge mansions with wealthy white inhabitants immediately adjacent to urban war zones in Detroit proper, or the sterile office parks of Oakland County carefully designed to keep Detroit residents out by eliminating public spaces and creating green belt barriers and roads designs for that purpose). Indeed, the boundaries of these planned to be exclusionary communities provides the U.S. Supreme Court with justification for its first major anti-desegregation decision, something that wouldn't have existed with mere private gated subdivisions within Detroit.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Anonymous 5-7-08 1:18 p.m.:

Planners are the people who created the system that gives residents the power to exclude people and uses, they are the people who operate that system as it functions today, and they are the people who perpetuate the legitimacy of that system.

My fundamental beef with the planning profession is that it beliefs that the problem is bad zoning decisions, when the real problem is the existence of zoning per se.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting series of posts. I guess I'd argue that putting the blame for most of our urban ills on the shoulders of planners misses at least part of the point. Planners may carry out policy, and may have devised the tools with which to do so, but they do not MAKE policy. As one of the other posters noted, policies are put in place by City Councils, who, whether they actually are or not, consider themselves to be the representatives of citizens.

My experience as a planning commissioner, knowing just enough about planning to be dangerous, suggests that economic bigotry (and other forms of bigotry as well), as it appears in single-use, Euclidian zoning, is not the product of planners, either individually, as a department in city government, or as a profession. If you don't like those things — and I don't — the place to look for their origins is among your friends and neighbors. As citizens, they're the ones who pressure their local government to keep out the riff-raff, whether through failing to build sidewalks or allowing anything but large-lot single-family housing.

In fact, in one community north of Denver where I was a planning commissioner, several citizens insisted at both planning commission and city council meetings that any houses built as part of a new development behind them match, exactly, the square footage of both their houses and their lots. The rationale — such as it was — seemed based on the idea that only an exact match in house and lot square footage would preserve their property value.

The notion that government exists only to preserve the property value of the well-to-do ought to give us pause to begin with, and the implication that property value trumps every other sort of value is equally bizarre.

From what I've seen in my years as a planning commissioner, planners are generally in the forefront of efforts to correct the single-use mistakes of the mid and late 20th century. The operative question is whether or not they'll be allowed to do so by local governments that are firmly in the hands of that most knee-jerk conservative of all groups, suburban homeowners.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

City councils would never enact anything as complex as a Euclidian zoning ordinance in the absence of planners. Planners (including city managers) tell council members that all respectable cities are zoned. Somewhere down the line (often in several iterations), planners held dozens of ill attended meetings of with busy body neighbors and land use wonks and people with current development projects to draw up a crude master plan and then operationalizationize it.

Planners perpetuate the notion that preservation of property values is a legitimate function of government, and that ill defined neighborhood concerns are relevant.

Planners routinely expect and favor a system in which developers engage in negotiations with community members with no concrete interest in the project or its direct impacts that produces design changes made simply to make these participants happy, in the shadow of planning commission meetings where any objection risks project delay, additional expense, and a possible veto of land uses for land already purchased.

Oh, sure, city council people decide which zone goes where and handle complaints about proposals, but the first draft which often ends up being a final draft for a large percentage of the jurisdiction typically comes from planners and typically mirrors existing use, and planners frame the choices available to elected officials.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, though with a few reservations. As you note, planners haven't been all bad, and there are some things, especially regional things like parks and major infrastucture, that do need some larger foresight. But by and large, planning as a profession has certainly given politicans and nimbys the tools and levers with which to impose a kind of artificial statis on our cities. What you could better acknowledge, however, is that this statis was only exacerbated by cultural shifts to suburbs and to 'newness' more broadly, which certainly go beyond the scope of what planners could reasonably facilitate or prevent.

Your remark on parking requirements was puzzling though, given that so many pre-planning areas blatantly don't accomodate cars to the degree we now legislate as necessary. Have you read 'The High Cost of Free Parking' (Shoup)?

Otherwise, well-said and well-argued.



Anonymous said...

One problem with your thesis--planning (zoning) pre-dates planners. The public's desire to plan and zone was followed by the development of a professional class.

Anonymous said...

As someone else more eloquently stated, the problems that you mentioned and laid at the feet of the planning profession, are better laid at the feet of the American people.

I can't tell you how many projects I have presented to elected officials that were good projects which were progressive, mixed use, walkable and sustainable that because 2 malcontents showed up at a public hearing, the elected officials were spooked into a denial vote.

Courts have a mixed record on appeal of meeting the test of substantial competent evidence and whether or not it was presented by said malcontents.

As someone else mentioned, the weakness of planning today is that we don't have more power, not less.

Left to its own devices, the development pattern would not be good for America if left unchecked and 'hands off'. The planners today are the ones undoing things such as discouragement of mixed use.

In sum, your article is written 50 years too late.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The solution, which I propose in hte original post, is to repeal zoning codes wholesale and deny municipal and county governments the authority to enact them.

Anonymous said...

"There is no evidence that private developers will not meet the need for this kind of development if freed from the regulations that prevent them from doing so."
There's plenty of evidence of this all over my city, and as the t-shirt says "Fuck you I'm from Texas."

Anonymous said...

While I won't agree with you on most your points, it is an interesting debate - one that would be well off getting some mainstream attention. The premise of much of what you state is fundamentally incorrect (no other way to say it nicely) - simply put, many great walkable, diverse, green, and diverse cities were planned in some way shape or form - long before Euclide and the rise of modern planning. The automobile tells most of the story, the financial systems that allow for investment in sprawl as an atlernative to sustainable more natural development patterns, race/classism resulting in the gate community, or put better the Belgium method of seperating things, need for drainage and development standards that protect adjacent property owners rights, etc. etc. As a practicing planner, I won't hide behind the fact that most of decisions are politically driven (althought it sure feels like it most the time) - but rather, the politicians are driven by the developers, the private sector if you will. Sure, once in a while the developers are forced to acquisce to provide something that contributes the civic well being, but the argument that the private sector will do a better job if left to it's own methods is not possible in a society that has created the entity known as corporations. One thing I'll agree with - I sure wish we could dump all of the current krap we have to muck along with, and we could adopt simple, sustainable, more traditional development standards. It's this reason alone, that I'll go along with some of what you say - just go back and rewrite your premise to actually use facts, not incorrect assumptions. Cheers.

Kevin Dickson said...

I'll give another example of absurd planning regulation:

Inclusionary Zoning

In Denver, it expires in 20 years after completion of the project.

Zoning supposedly guides the development of the city toward a better future, or at least it is supposed to prevent problems. If it expires, then it's been a big waste of time and money.

Inclusionary zoning in Denver has benefitted young professionals in low paying fields, not the poor families we'd like to help with tax dollars.

KUNGarchitecture, LLC said...

Down-zoning or Green Growth?

“Down-zoning will preserve historic neighborhoods because it will eliminate scrapes, prohibit McMansion duplex construction and stop contemporary developments”. This and similar statements are carried by the proponents of replacing current R-2 zoning (that allows duplexes and row houses) with the single family zoning. Few comments come to mind:
 The current or new zoning codes do not prohibit demolition (scrapes) of existing structures. Those decisions are made by individual property owners based on technical and economical evaluation.
 A single family residence can take on a size of a duplex. It’s a question of form, not use.
 Codes do not regulate a style of architecture. A style is a matter of personal preference not a legislature.

The down-zoning does not accomplish the intent of preserving the character of our neighborhoods. The down-zoning will induce stagnation by eliminating opportunities for increasing density and bringing new population to the neighborhoods. With this current proposal of the new zoning code there lies a tremendous opportunity but also a responsibility. Peter Park said: “When cities stop changing, they start dying”. So what is green growth?

 Green growth prevents sprawl.
 Green growth recognizes potential of already established neighborhoods. Existing infrastructure, schools, transportation, retail etc. along with proximity to downtown present a great opportunity. By bringing new, young population to those neighborhoods we continue to revitalize the community making it more desirable.
 Green growth is respectful to the existing character of neighborhoods. New developments are subordinate to the historic structures in terms of scale, setbacks and forms. New “form based” code can control those aspects without eliminating opportunities for multifamily living.
 Green growth means sustainable and respectful growth.

When I decided to move to Northwest Denver I was excited to become a part of this vibrant and growing community. The schools are improving and the property values are going up. I would like to see this growth to continue. Neil Goldschmidt, the mastermind behind the planning effort that turned Portland into the city it is today said: “Ours is the city with much to cherish, much to love and too much to lose to remain idle”. I would like to place my vote for green growth!

Kevin Dickson said...

Another zoning law coming under fire: Most cities prohibit rentals of less than 30 days in private homes and apartments.

Airbnb has quietly grown to be worth $10B, more than all but a handful hotel chains.

Yet, a high percentage of their hosts are violating local zoning law, so they must tackle the problem soon.