Mauldin Stamp Dedication
Bicentennial Wagon Train Pilgrimage

Blame the Planning

Slate's architecture critic, Witold Rybczynski, hates on city planning and illustrates why architecture critics should stick to their architecture. He kicks at the scary dead ghost of soviet-style centralized government planning - suggesting backhandedly that we're headed that direction with the stimulus funding.  

It is not hard to find good examples of bad planning.  It is also super easy to define something - anything - as planning.  He does both.

The last binge of planning in the 1960s produced urban renewal, city expressways, and acres of housing projects from which many cities are still only partially recovered. Urban renewal destroyed rather than repaired inner-city neighborhoods, expressways promoted urban blight, and the projects proved environmentally and socially dysfunctional. The result was collective NIMBY-ism—no planning in my backyard, thank you.

So planning is failed urban renewal.  With post war highway building thrown in for good measure.  Why stop there?  Why not include the land settlement acts and western water projects as planning projects and planning failures?* 

Centralized planning (by whatever catch-all definition he conjures) is a both a powerful failure and completely irrelevant.  That's having it both ways.

The forces shaping our cities today are not municipal agencies but private organizations such as park conservancies, downtown associations, historic-preservation societies, arts councils, advocacy groups, and urban universities. Entrepreneurship also plays an important role. In projects large and small, real estate developers have replaced city planners and bureaucrats as the chief players on the urban scene, restoring neighborhoods, attracting residents to downtowns, helping to create the amenities that keep them there.

In La-la town.  Sure, plenty of forces change the landscape more than the municipal planning agencies that administer haphazard zoning and building codes (hardly centralized government planning.)  But the greatest force is the real estate industry, not happy little historic associations and arts councils. 

Land developers and the financial institutions behind them are all about maximizing profits, not building sustainable communities or city planning.  That these goals sometimes overlap is a marvelous alignment of coincidence or stars.  But hardly the rule.  And certainly no reason to not engage in city planning, or broad community involvement in public policy development and goal-setting - as city planning can be defined.

*Ever notice how often the generalized term planning is used for blame assignment in any failure - no matter how specific?  Anything can fail, from financing to structural supports, and be blamed on poor planning.  Even the absence of planning is a planning failure. 



Case in point, Alameda Point.

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