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Thread: The worst planning blunders ever

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    The worst planning blunders ever

    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.

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    In addition to or replacing Manhattan, I would talk about the "problems" of the grid in San Fransico.

    That has got to be one of the worst applications of the grid in the US, with, maybe, Seattle next.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

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    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    The Long Island Expressway and the failure (or refusal?) to secure a right of way for eventual transit down the middle of the Expressway.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    What about Chicago's Cabrini Green experiment?

  5. #5
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    ...[snip].... I would talk about the "problems" of the grid in San Fransico.

    That has got to be one of the worst applications of the grid in the US, with, maybe, Seattle next.
    Careful. That grid pattern north of Market Street is also popular with residents and provides for those breathtaking vistas of The Bay and beyond from the streets and the bay windows from the homes.

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    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    In addition to or replacing Manhattan, I would talk about the "problems" of the grid in San Fransico.

    That has got to be one of the worst applications of the grid in the US, with, maybe, Seattle next.
    I guess I'm confused at what problems you're referring to - all of the places with the worst gridlock are where the different grids meet, or where one of those grids was "messed with" by freeways or new street cuts in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. Is it just the hills that you're talking about?

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    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    What about Chicago's Cabrini Green experiment?
    Bad, but what about Pruitt-Igoe or Robert Taylor Homes?

  8. #8
    I don't think Manhattan or San Francisco are so bad.

    I would nominate the 1/4 (or bigger) acre housing lot. Sprawl, cars, habitat destruction and global warming. Why does anyone need more than 5000 or 6000 sq feet anyway?

    parking lots in front of businesses. Or the surface parking lot anywhere. Is ther anything uglier?

    The person who decided that Bus Rapid Transit could be 90% dedicated busway. We wouldn't call something a freeway if it was only 90% divided limited access, but BRT can get by. So the peter out in the most congested areas - where they are most needed. A rule invented by someone who doesn't take the bus.
    Last edited by Gotta Speakup; 27 Mar 2008 at 7:36 AM.

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    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    How about the MacArthur Maze? Maybe not a planning blunder...more of an engineering blunder.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacArthur_Maze

  10. #10
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Wasn't the expansion of the Met-life (formerly Pan Am) Building in NYC the result of additional air rights from Grand Central Station in the famous planning case Penn Central v. NYC?

    The redevelopment of the St. Thomas Housing project in New Orleans to what is now know as River Garden was quite controversial, and this happened before Katrina. Or maybe New Orleans public housing plan prior to Katrina...that majorly backfired after Katrina when people realized they were going to demolish thousands of units and replace them with mixed income projects.
    Last edited by beach_bum; 27 Mar 2008 at 9:42 AM.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

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    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Demolition of Boston's West End & Boston City Hall Plaza. I'm sure some of the old Ablarc posts have good before and after photos.

    Maybe Brasilia.

    Every large American city has an example of an interstate plowing through and displacing poor populations.

  12. #12
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    The creation of 'highway commercial' zoning districts?
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    RJ and CJC perhaps I may have assumed the grid on the hills is/was a problem. I must confess - I've never actually been to SF.

    Dan - maybe Manhattan's grid is not that bad when you think beyond the Avenue vs. Street comparisons. If they had imposed the same number N/S Avenues as E/W Streets, they would have had some very small block and shallow lots. Alternatively, if there had been more N/S Avenues than E/W Streets all the lots would have either their fronts or rears constantly in shadow. Lots with N/S orientation are problematic. They understood that E/W oriented lots would be more valuable.

    Even with the plan created in 1811, the standard lot was/is only 25' by 100' (I'm pretty sure) with no alleys and large rights-of-way (+100').
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

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    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    FESTIVAL VILLAGES!!!

    I know they were more economic development than planning, but they are horrible none the less. Most of the ones created are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, with a few exceptions. They have become comic releif and a total drain on tax payer funds. How many times can you "re-imagine" the same failing space?
    Satellite City Enabler

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    My ignorance: what is a festival village?

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Gotta, think Fanuiell Hall/Quincy Market. This was replicated all over the place but very few are still around. Detroit's was known as Trappers Alley and now houses a casino.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  17. #17
    Thank you!

    This is an educational website!

    I would agree. Even Quincy Market is kind of a bust. No one from Boston goes there. Only tourists. We avoid it.

  18. #18
    Everybody that listened to Victor Gruen.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_Gruen

    Using one-way streets and pedestrian malls to revitalize downtown. Uh, no.

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    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Thank you!

    This is an educational website!

    I would agree. Even Quincy Market is kind of a bust. No one from Boston goes there. Only tourists. We avoid it.
    It's actually anything but a bust. It's highly successful and has always been a bustling, high-traffic area as long as I can remember (20+ years).

    And I have to ask, who is "we"?

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    The counties that let Disney World into central FL? Followed by Sea World, Universal, massive sprawl, upteen smaller tourist attractions like The Holy Land Experience. (Yes, my kid loved going to Disney when he was younger...) but that just llat out ruined central FL.

    Or... the first morons that let high rise condos build on the beach in FL?

  21. #21
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess View post
    ...[snip]...Or... the first morons that let high rise condos build on the beach in FL?
    I forgot (or try to forget) about that one. Don't blame me; it was broken before I got here.

    (And this is a short one--only about 15-stories.)

  22. #22
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Hey! I always like Victor Gruen. You should read his book. "The Heart of Our Cities"

    Downtown forms vary greatly. You can find places where one way streets and ped malls work. You need to adress the culture, not the form.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grafton_Street
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  23. #23
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Bad, but what about Pruitt-Igoe or Robert Taylor Homes?
    Or just 'commieblock' public housing projects in general. I don't know of any that did not quickly turn into urban hell holes. Also, oodles of 1960s and 1970s 'urban renewal' projects have been long-term disasters.

    Mike

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    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    The Texas-style continuous access road along Interstates.

    Not sure if this is a planning one, but the death of light rail/streetcars in cities across the nation in favor of buses, assuming the rail public transportation was replaced at all.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  25. #25
    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    It's actually anything but a bust. It's highly successful and has always been a bustling, high-traffic area as long as I can remember (20+ years).

    And I have to ask, who is "we"?

    Quincy market if full of people, but no one from Boston. When I worked for the (former) mayor and worked for a number of people running for office, both state and local, it was an area that no one would look for voters - no one there is registered to vote in Massachusetts.

    "We" are people who live in Boston.

    Again, it IS full of people, but no locals go there. So I can see why so many of these places are complete failures elsewhere - if your city isn't a major tourist draw, a festival marketplace is going to fail.

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