Tuesday, May 10, 2005

What Next, Comrade Planner?

Randal O'Toole, an interesting guy who calls himself a "free-market environmentalist," recently posted a bit of history he has found.

O'Toole quotes from a book that says American suburbs are "a chaotic and depressing agglomeration of buildings covering enormous stretches of land." The cost of providing services to such "monotonous stretches of individual low-rise houses" is too high. As a result, "the search for a future kind of residential building leads logically to" high-density, mixed-use housing.

The source of this bit of New Urbanism? A book titled The Ideal Communist City, written by University of Moscow planners in the 1960's. The principles of the book formed a blueprint for residential construction all across Russia and Eastern Europe during the Communist years, O'Toole says.

I don't think I buy into the idea that New Urbanism is just Communist planning principles recast, but it is an interesting parallel. Even O'Toole says, "I have always resisted the notion that smart growth and sustainability are some kind of international plot to take away American sovereignty. Even if it were true, saying so marks one as a kook and eliminates all credibility. But I don't think it is true; we have enough central planners in our own midst that we don't have to look for them elsewhere."

Sometimes, it seems to me, we planners do try to be a little too "central" in the way we plan and do our work. We all buy in to the latest ideas out there, we all travel around and look at what is working in one place, and try to sell that idea everywhere (especially some of the consultants out there.) Instead, we may need to recognize that every place is different and unique. Perhaps we should be striving to create "uniqueness" and not make everywhere the same.

You might get a kick out of some of the things O'Toole points out. Take a look at his Smart Growth and the Ideal City.

6 Comments:

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Planner Wannabe said...

No matter how well intended, government driven "smart growth" has little chance of prevailing against the more common and pervasive ideology of property rights and the strong effect of market supply/demand. Recent activity in Oregon and Maryland suggest that "smart growth" as a government led movement has not been effective. Where smart growth is failing, however, "new urbanism” may succeed because it is driven by market analysis (e.g., growing portions of the population at either end of the age continuum who want smaller homes on smaller lots) and with respect for individual property rights. Governmental incentives may play a role in “new urbanism”, but much smaller than envisioned by "smart growth" ideologist.

 
At 2:42 PM, Blogger Planner Perplexed said...

What is wrong with smart growth?

Nothing!

What is wrong with looking at models that have worked elsewhere and importing them to other places?

Nothing!

What is wrong is when government unilaterally outlaws through stupid and backward "zoning" laws attempts by the "market" to provide different development patterns.

Case in point? How many "smart growth" or New "Urbanist" projects have been built in Utah? C'mon, how many?

There are more brilliant land use projects in Idaho, for crying out loud, than in Utah. What does that tell you about the state of "planning" here? Show me 10 really good NU/SG/TND/TOD projects in Utah and I'll eat my hat.

Just read the paper and you'll see that the biggest obstacle to "smart growth" and "new urbanism" is government.

Yes, by all means let's have often ill informed and even worse, mean spirited, elected officials determine how and where we can live; what kind of house I am limited in buying and how inconvenient my life will remain.

Really bright...

There will come a day when we will regret having clung to our outdated land use schemes and our inability to think outside the box.

For me, that day has already come and gone.

 
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