I'm considering writing an article with a list of the worst planning blunders ever. I don't really what to include general, broad-reaching programs or trends (FHA redlining, Interstate highways, Wal-Mart, and so on), but rather local individual plans and projects that backfired in a horrendous way.
A few nominations:
1) The Manhattan street grid. The Commissioners' Plan of 1811 laid out a regular grid of streets and property lines over the island of Manhattan without regard to the topography of the island itself. While many cities established in the decades following used a grid, in Manhattan 155 streets ran east and west across the narrow 2.3 mile width of the island, while only 16 streets -- less in most places -- ran north and south down the 13.4 length of the island. The result: it's incredible easy to make a crosstown trip in Manhattan, but it's far more difficult to make a trip uptown or downtown. Unfortunately, the vast majority of travel on Manhattan is north-to-south. With the limited number of north-south avenues, Manhattan has been in a state of near-gridlock for over a century and a half.
2) Ashtabula: the Appalachia wannabe. This article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes a program from three decades ago to promote the northeast Ohio city as an ideal destination for the poor from Appalachia.
But a deeper running problem here, say officials, is a workforce that has not adapted. Functional illiteracy, says Mr. Cantagallo, runs high. City officials such as Mr. Strong, the development director, still shudder at the memory of a program three decades ago that essentially drowned the town in federal dollars when they, essentially, tried to turn poverty into a revenue-producing industry.
Keen to land federal housing subsidies and spur new construction, the city advertised for needy people to come north from Appalachia for federally subsidized housing.
"They actually were running ads in Kentucky and West Virginia saying 'Come to Ashtabula. We have cheap housing' and they actually used the term 'fast welfare,' " said Mr. Cantagallo.
On a tour of the town, Mr. Strong pointed out a jumble of quickly tossed together homes he said are now decaying, amid neighborhoods where the poor came to stay. In one, a row of houses was put up, ostensibly designed to house the "working poor," who could apply their rent toward an eventual purchase.
"They weren't the working poor," Mr. Strong said. "They were people who didn't work. Within a year, about a third of them were Section 8" subsidized rental housing.