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Thread: Re: "Sowell: Liberal Planners Cause Sprawl"

  1. #1
    Member simulcra's avatar
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    Re: "Sowell: Liberal Planners Cause Sprawl"

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I see a wierd sort of paradox/logic loop in his article...

    Liberal planners cause sprawl by restricting development and forcing people to move out further... therefore we should repeal restrictions so that people can move out into more areas?

    I ask this because he gives the example of San Francisco and nearby vacan San Mateo County. He says frisco people are pushed out into sprawling development because no one can afford frisco living. Yet, the solution would then be to allow development in San Mateo County. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't sprawl still sprawl, whether its out towards the east or south into san mateo county? And isn't development naturally restricted by geography anyway in san mateo county (i don't have a topographical map or anything, but it doesn't seem to be easily buildable land).

    But anyway, in short, he says as a solution to the sprawl that apprently is all the liberals' fault (wow, how simple life must be once you reduce things to absolutes), we should make it easier to sprawl... and this will apparently solve the issue of sprawl?

    And alas, he recieved a phD in economics from uchicago... and in uchicago, economics is all about neo-liberalism, ie almost-anarcho-capitalism...

  2. #2
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    UoC economics program is so biased that (according to my PhD economist boss) many people will refuse to hire UoC graduates simply because they don't want people that narrow minded.

    Cities with increasing population have to expand laterally. Prior to WWII, the biggest problem in cities, American or otherwise, was not sprawl but overcrouding. Overcrouding is, I think, an even worse problem than sprawl. It reduces standards of living, health and hygiene.

    That said, cities can support incredible density (compared to contemporary sprwal) without overcrouding. As Jane Jacobs pointed out, overcrouding is where the infestructure of the city is overloaded. You can increase densities while maintaining quality of life by beefing up infestructure. Planners in the 60s saw tall buildings close together and believed that they caused overcrouding. That wasn't true, the area was overcrouded because there were twelve people to an apartment in the buildings. There's obviously some point where if you keep on incresing density and infestructure, you end up like Hong Kong with incredibly huge, cheaply constructed vertical tenement towers, so a line has to be drawn somewhere, but nowhere in America is anywhere near that point.

    Planning does enforce sprawl though, with minimum lot sizes, euclidian zoning, parking requirements, maximum lot coverage requirements, setbacks, etc. I think planning is still in its dark ages. It's not like it was in the 60s where it actively destroyed that which it was supposed to protect. There aren't any Robert Moses clones running around attacking vibrant neighborhoods with meat axes, but planning is still 70% bad because it enforces sprawl. I think things are improving slowly though. Most planning programs teach solid theory and it's just that the existing regulatory environment that planners are required to work in basically enforce sprawl, so they become agents of sprawl in a way. Now it's just a matter of the slow process of changing that regulatary environmet and public education as to why the changes need to be made.

    So in short, the current practice of planning does harm cities, but that dosen't mean that planners aren't necessary.
    Last edited by jordanb; 06 Dec 2003 at 9:17 PM.

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Well said, jordanb!

    Planning practice, in many places, is like a hammer, when it should be like an Excato knife.

    The new generation of planners are starting to get it, but the elected/appointed officials are still about a two and a half decades behind.

  4. #4
    maudit anglais
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    Could we get a link to the article?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Originally posted by mendelman

    The new generation of planners are starting to get it, but the elected/appointed officials are still about a two and a half decades behind.
    Can I move to your jurisdiction? 25 years behind the times would be progressive here.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ablarc's avatar
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    Truth

    “Planning does enforce sprawl though, with minimum lot sizes, Euclidian zoning, parking requirements, maximum lot coverage requirements, setbacks, etc. I think planning is still in its dark ages. It's not like it was in the 60s where it actively destroyed that which it was supposed to protect. There aren't any Robert Moses clones running around attacking vibrant neighborhoods with meat axes, but planning is still 70% bad because it enforces sprawl. I think things are improving slowly though. Most planning programs teach solid theory and it's just that the existing regulatory environment that planners are required to work in basically enforce sprawl, so they become agents of sprawl in a way. Now it's just a matter of the slow process of changing that regulatory environment and public education as to why the changes need to be made.

    So in short, the current practice of planning does harm cities, but that doesn't mean that planners aren't necessary.”

    Bravo, jordanb! That is about as succinct a statement of the truth as I have ever read.

  7. #7

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    While agreeing with jordanb, I would also point out that planners do not work in a vacuum. The precious "market" that Sowell and his ilk (sorry libertarians) worship generates "sprawl." Heck, higher standards of living equal sprawl.

    Let's be honest, given the population pressures, you could subdivide every acre of San Mateo County, and housing in the Bay Area would still be expensive.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    The solution to sprawl really needs to be a regionally coordinated effort. A planner can do all he can in their jurisdiction.... but when the municipality a town or two over opens their gates to development.. your hands are tied. In NY, home rule is the name of the game... which fuels sprawl around our older cities.

    I work in an interesting area... where the suburbs are squeezing out commercial development,,, forcing it to the city centers. It is good for curbing sprawl.. but everything has a price.. as the value of land in the suburbs skyrockets, the dream of traditional home ownership is just out of the question.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

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  9. #9

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    Those who are so sheltered that they never go to or work in jurisdictions with no (or next to no) planning and zoning need to realize that - while zoning certainly contributes to sprawl in some cases - the same dynamics are at work without any regulation. People and businesses seek cheap land. which means they move to the edge. That's the way the market works.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Originally posted by tsc
    The solution to sprawl really needs to be a regionally coordinated effort. A planner can do all he can in their jurisdiction.... but when the municipality a town or two over opens their gates to development.. your hands are tied. In NY, home rule is the name of the game... which fuels sprawl around our older cities.
    I agree completely. Home rule makes regional planning very difficult, unless you have some visionary leaders with "big picture" - type thinking.

  11. #11
    The sprawl solution is quite obvious. Raise the tax on a gallon of gasoline to $5.00 and end the highway subsidies. Use the tax money to rebuild urban infrastructure (above and below grade) and develop reliable, affordable, system-wide mass transit. Without any dis-incentive to stay close to the core, development will continue to seek out 1) supportive population and 2) cheap ground.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  12. #12

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    Not A Pretty Picture

    I suppose Sowell's Utopia would be present day Houston; endless sprawl, free of planning czars who meddle and interfere with free market champions who want to place subdivisions next to off-ramps, refineries, and Wal-Marts....(not necessarily in that order.)

  13. #13
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    I still stand by the fact that in a "planning" sub-office of 8 people i'm the only one with a background in planning. The other 7 are engineers.

    In fact, in an office of 110 people, nearly everyone over 50 is an engineer, not a planner. Whereas, nearly everyone under 40 is a planner, not an enginner (except for the people in our modeling department)
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  14. #14
    BANNED Patrick the Planner's avatar
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    Liberals cause sprawl?

    Huh?

    I hold onto the cheap land/cheap fuel view as being perhaps the strongest contributing factors to sprawl.

    But then again, one from the right could blame me for sprawl. I have a hidden liberal agenda. I'd show it to you, but it's in my pocket (and hidden), so I cannot actually show it to you.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    A similar article appeared in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It argues that putting more people in a given space causes more cars to be in that same space which leads to gridlock and pollution. It totally ignores how many trips turn into walking trips and the increased economy of public transportation when density gets to a critical level. It also ignores mixed use.

    The interesting thing in Atlanta is that the city government has embraced some very progressive zoning laws but the suburbs are still in the dark ages of sprawl. Sadly, the city is less than 10% of the metro population so sprawl rules.

    For anyone who wants a tragic laugh, the article is at http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/o...25_meyers.html
    Last edited by AubieTurtle; 25 Dec 2003 at 8:31 PM.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian chasqui's avatar
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    Dirty tricks

    You have to hand it to conservatives - the bag of tricks seems bottomless. If you blame liberals for sprawl enough, people will start believing it. Besides, it is easier to blame someone than accepting that sprawl is caused by cheap gas, suburban zoning ordinances and automobile worship.
    I'm just upset no one tried blaming conservatives for sprawl first!

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Why is the phrase "social engineering" only applied to higher density or mixed use options, but not . . .

    - mandatory single family homes on large lots with strict separation of uses and little affordable/rental housing,

    - inner city neighborhoods where only the poor and/or minorities live,

    - "senior-only housing" developments popping up everywhere to pacify town boards?

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    It's that whole thing of deniability again. Our culture causes sprawl--we still seem to have that manifest destiny idea going, even though we've pushed all the way to the Pacific and more keep heading that way. Seems like until there's a cultural shift--perhaps brought about by a need for more compact, walkable, dense, mixed-use developments, we'll just keep heading west, and north, south, and east, because it's a cultural imperative. We can curb sprawl in small doses, but to really be effective, we'll have to go beyond even the regional level. Illinois has a growth boundary now? Fine, let's build in Indiana and Iowa!
    I don't dream. I plan.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Doitnow!!'s avatar
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    Urban Sprawl

    Hi Everybody. I am posting something after I dunno how much time. But whatever, this talk about the sprawl has really caught my attention as I am currently involved in one such gigantic exercise of increasing the metropolitan area of the city I live in( Hyderabad, India)

    To cut the long story short I think that unless city sizes are fixed( in some manner), either physically or by authority-jurisdiction, the phenomenon of sprawl cannot be stalled.

    Peripheral areas/fringes will keep on growing and especially some of the growths may be high quality/high cost even if the suburb is not that well connected with the core city through some highway.

    So even if we go as per the traditional theories of growth of urban areas, broadly the mechanisms and dynamics remain the same.
    Some old areas/parts within the core city keep undergoing transformation while new and better projects keep coming up on the fringes of the urban area.

    For me the problem lies in planning for the infrastructure for the future with changing times. Even if we employ flexible planning principles( and leave the rest to the powerful market forces-as one member has pointed out earlier) we need to plan for the infrastructure well. Otherwise things are going to get very tough especially for the city managers.

    Proper regional planning and integrated socio-economic-spatial planning needs to be done to tackle the problems nationally(whichever the nation) and that needs too much modelling and too many variables. Also some cities are out of teh national ambit are prone to international dynamics( these cities have become global) APart from such cases( global cities) the rest have to have some lkind of macro plan integrated to the whole region

    Other wise cities will keep growing and we will keep planning for them.

    I am leaving the discussion unfinished because i hope that there will be some food for thought for many who want to commnet on this sprawl issue.
    "I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them".
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  20. #20
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Going left on this one.

    Mark me as a conservative that is generally for the concept of growth boundaries. The devil is in the details - Consitutional details. I see the best way to obtain the same goal that growth boundarys try to obtain by truly shifting ALL of the costs of inherent in a development to the developer. The further out you go the more you get charged. Redevelop a brownfield and you get fee credits, maybe even refunds.

    Conversely, has anyone seen an example of the city acting as the planner/developer for housing areas and leaving the speculator market open to commercial and industrial construction, and to home building?

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Re: Going left on this one.

    Originally posted by el Guapo
    Conversely, has anyone seen an example of the city acting as the planner/developer for housing areas and leaving the speculator market open to commercial and industrial construction, and to home building?
    This is one of the advantages of being a planner doing economic development. I have been the developer (in part) or facilitator (i.e., where and how) of a majority of the residential development going on in the city. My organization also owns and develops all of the industrial land in the city, and has a great deal of say in planning new commercial areas.

    Hmmm, I never thought of it this way before... Cardinal... red... commie planner....

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Cheap petrol

    Cheap petrol alone cannot be blamed for sprawl. Cities with expensive petrol and poor highway facilities still have oodles of sprawl; when I lived in Melbourne, petrol cost 90 Australian cents per litre (about $2 US per gallon, keeping in mind the much lower income per capita of Australia at that time as compared to the US). Melbourne had a quite underbuilt freeway system compared to cities of 4 million people in the U.S. However, the sprawl looked just the same: shopping malls, tract homes, congested highways, long commutes, and decaying old neighbourhoods.

    I have a theory that the desire to sprawl is innate to human nature. A select few of us, including myself and, apparently, most other planners on this board, enjoy living close by the company of many other lively people and hate the feeling of isolation. Many people I know, though, really enjoy keeping to themselves, don't want to be disturbed by anyone else past 6 PM, and will gladly expand large amounts of money to ensure they can live in a sham imitation of solitude. This desire seems to cross national and ethnic boundaries; I have yet to visit a country I did not see being overtaken by sprawl. What's the solution to this? I don't really know. Perhaps all of us sociable people should go live in our own city and declare it offlimits to those annoying isolationists who become tourists once a year and like to visit the lively downtowns we build!

  23. #23
    Cyburbian GeogPlanner's avatar
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    Re: Cheap petrol

    Originally posted by MennoJoshua
    Perhaps all of us sociable people should go live in our own city and declare it offlimits to those annoying isolationists who become tourists once a year and like to visit the lively downtowns we build!
    I think that people see housing and development in black and white...overcrowding or sprawl. It's row houses or estates. No one builds the small city single family homes, circa 1920. I like my space and neighbors, but I don't want to be downtown.

    Growing up in a wood framed 2 family in an old trolley district, I've come to appreciate the ability to walk in a neighborhood to go to the store or church. But secretly I always wanted more! When I was engaged two years ago and shopping for a house, I did look for more space, but not a sprawling estate. I just wanted a single family home with a small detached garage in the rear of the house on a tree lined street with sidewalks. The problem is that just does not exist in great supply. It was easy to find a suburban house or a run down money pit...neither ideal, but the suburban one more ideal from the other in the long term. The old peripheral city house was non-existant on the market. And no one builds new like that anymore b/c its not a sure sell. We just need to learn to build quaint single family homes again.
    Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after and only after the design is complete. (Often called the 'Now They Tell Us' Law) - Fyfe's First Law of Revision

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  24. #24

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    I think GeogPlanner nails it. His ideal sounds like mine. There are actually houses like that in my current neighborhood (the older part of a former farm-town turned outer suburb of the Bay Area); prices have now skyrocketed, and I like my townhouse anyway.

    Part of the problem is that homebuilding and planning have followed the same overall trends toward homogeneity (except for superficial market segmentation) and centralized control. Instead of small homebuilders, we have gigantic neighborhoods of 1000 homes.

    I like "urban" neighborhood settings, but I don't want to live in an apartment. To me, the high point of American residential design was the pre-war period in the United States. The bungalows, "period revival," "tudor style" railroad suburbs witha walkable neighborhood or "village" center. I'll take a townhouse, also (although I would sometimes like to play my stereo a little louder than I can. As cutesy as they are, I think this is what the neotraditionalists are trying to recapture.

    I would still take an interesting city apartment over a tract house in a single-use planned subdivision. I don't care how many biocycle trails a place like San Ramon, Highlands Ranch, Colorado, or Plano, Texas has.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    Devel. by gov't

    Re El Guapo's query, planning and development by city authorities is very common in Northern Europe, and has been for many years. They'd annex an area, put in the infrastructure, and then the lots go up for sale.

    I can think of several older industrial cities in the northeast that have had to act as their own developers when commercial developers are scared off due to a town's reputation, crime, diminishing tax base...you know, the usual set of urban ills that bedevil many U.S. cities. The taxpayers of my own town, Trenton, NJ, are underwriting a large hotel downtown. If it fails, its on us. So visit beautiful Trenton, turning point of the American Revolution!

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