Monday, March 1

Some limits to emergence (or why planners are still needed)

The continued maturation of the internet, from a select set of information-providers to a huge crowd of users who create our own content, has been a defining shift for my generation (well, at least for some of us). We have some real examples of how collective efforts of informally organized actors have successfully developed into highly sophisticated systems. The crown jewel of this era is probably Wikipedia's decisive win over Encyclopedia Britannica. Hundreds of thousands of mostly-benevolent volunteers have incrementally grown a body of knowledge from the bottom up that surpasses in breadth and depth the prevailing institution of experts operating from the top down. This is an amazing feat, and it keeps growing.

Many have made the conceptual connection from this online paradigm shift to the physical world of cities. Steven Johnson's 2002 book Emergence: the Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software has been highly influential in this regard. The concept of the emergence of urban complexity, whether of medieval cities filled with meandering donkey paths or of the slums of Mumbai, has reverberated throughout social media and academia ever since. Australian Dan Hill's recent article on Emergent Urbanism flirts with the idea of the unplanned city:

"One might even argue for the removal of all planning guidelines and structures. After all, most of the world’s great cities are not the product of planning, no matter how enlightened. Certainly some have been well-formed by benevolent dictators or patrons, yet their personality has come from the slow accretion of individual citizens adopting and adapting those spaces, like ficus thriving on béton brut monuments."

I'm fairly sympathetic to these ideas, and I certainly recognize that the self-organizing potential of cities goes back to Jane Jacob's organic metaphors (the last chapter of Death and Life) and certainly well before this. Still - and maybe this is just my personality - I want to reach for the brakes just as the concept reaches a level of exuberance. Pure self-organization can be taken too far.

Equating the bottom-up potential of online networks with the human construction of the physical space of cities has some deficiencies that should be recognized before deciding on a balance between fixed structure and fluid evolution:
  1. The internet does actually need a foundational structure to function. Online networks are both dependent upon and shaped by multiple layers of structure that are, at least to some degree, fixed and imposed "from above." There is the hardware of computers. There is the fundamental software (operating systems, programming languages) and the web-based platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube). From the perspective of the end users, it appears as if the operative force is each of us collectively shaping the complexity of networks through individualized actions. But this is only because the underlying structure is much less visible than its surface level expressions. In reality, they both work together.

    To follow the analogy, cities would be formed by a similar wedding cake of authority, ranging from a federal government defining loose contours, to local governments refining them, and to individual actors painting within the lines. The relative weights given to each layer will perpetually be debated, but this seems to be how decisions that affect the public realm are actually made. This is planning, as far as I understand it.

  2. Unlike the internet, physical space is made up of fixed relationships. Our only experience of physical space is through an embodiment in a particular place at a particular time, and movement through space requires energy. Therefore, individual places are fundamentally and immutably connected to each other in a way that nodes on a online network are not. An adjoining website cannot block your sun, cut off your access, influence your property values, pollute your air. You do not have to see, smell, hear the adjoining website unless you choose to. Of course, there is no such thing as an adjoining website. The relationships of an online network are completely voluntary and malleable almost instantly. This is not the case with land.

  3. Land is more limited than online real estate. During the era of manifest destiny in United States history, it appeared as if the western frontier was a limitless expanse of land ready to be formed by European settlement. We eventually ran into some hard limits of productive land and natural resources, hence the birth of the modern environmental movement. Although there are technically limits to the capacity of the internet, it is still in the stage of apparent limitless expansion. The emergence of online networks does not necessarily teach us lessons about how to arrange complexity within constrained space.

  4. Modern land development happens at a scale and with an irreversible impact that is not necessarily conducive to incremental change. Wikipedia has emerged through the collective action of millions of tiny additions and alterations from thousands of actors, each operating with the benefit of instant feedback from prior changes. The economies of scale and financial structures of modernity compel most development to happen in large chunks: mega-projects, entire subdivisions, shopping malls. Raymond Unwin, back in 1909, noted that this distinction is what makes modern development different than the fabled medieval organic models of growth:
  5. "The very rapidity of the growth of modern towns demands special treatment. The wholesale character of their extension almost precludes the possibility of our attaining that appearance of natural growth which we have admired in the medieval town, where additions were made so gradually that each house was adapted to its place, and assimilated into the whole before the next was added. We already see in the modern suburb too much evidence of what is likely to result from any haphazard system of development. Modern conditions require, undoubtedly, that the new districts of our towns should be built according to a definite plan"
  6. Although it seems counter-intuitive, emergent systems online depend upon a civic bargain and mechanisms for self enforcement of these rules. Clay Shirky explains how this works for Wikipedia:
    "The basic bargain of a wiki means that people who care that the site not be used for pranks have the edge, because it takes far longer to write a fake entry than to fix it."
    So even the anonymous mobs of the internet have a code of conduct, a shared sense of mission, and a means for enforcing it. Those who construct physical space may have been governed by a similar set of purely social moral suasion at one time, but the scale of modernity once again seems to require a more rigid set of laws to protect the common good. Spiro Kostoff on this point:
    "The structure of city-from - the integration of uses, the concatenation of passages and nodal points - could possess the sort of coherence demonstrated by Old Dehli, and this is in the absence of municipal authority to police and an articulate public space, only because the social structure was well formulated, and tradition stood as the guarantor of a consistent modus operandi. Without the force of tradition and a consolidated social agenda, unsupervised city-making will succumb to disorder."

15 comments:

Eric Orozco said...

I hear what you are saying is that we need a little bit of convergence. ') ...Some pretty evocative thoughts there with your web analogy of emergence.

I just have to chime in that I find it very interesting that we planners on the blogosphere are always navigating a course between the Jeffersonian impulses and the Hamiltonian ones. Jacobs v. Moses, Emergent v. New Urbanism, ...all these debates seem to bring permutations of that founding American debate to our time.

My teach Julian Beinart (oh philosophe of city form) suggested that the response of the city to contrary mechanisms is a kind of adaptive "homeostasis". I believe this extends to its politics. When you give it Jeffersonian rules, it will gravitate to Hamiltonian agencies, when you afflict it with top down planning, it will bite you with Jeffersonian politics. What planners need to realize is that they need to pay attention to the balancing effects. We need to cultivate the sweet spot. We need to make our home on the edge, and learn to swing with the damper. Not easy. But interesting as a challenge.

Having said that, I think the gravity of thought on the Jeffersonian-Jacobs-Hayek side is more interesting than the other pole. However, I know that even Jefferson was pragmatic enough to work with Hamilton on the Assumption impasse. This need for gentlemanly convergence, subtly self-preserving in times of crisis, is an essential American trait...Our harsh and romantic ideas often have to be tempered by virtue, reality and/or forethought. Only the debate affords you that clarity. You could say that the US Constitution practically enshrines this the working policy of the American mode of government. It's a keep your enemies closer kind of mentality.

Don't get me wrong, Jefferson is still my guy and F.A. Hayek has a lot of great things to say against top-down planning, but Ron Paul is just a useful bull-whip. Ultimately, there is no need to seriously suggest Hamilton's model of economic development (and the profession of "Planning" by extension to some) is essentially "Un-American"... It too has helped America. For better or worse, I'd say, we haven't done too shabbily with that tug-of-war.

Benjamin Hemric said...

Part I

Interesting topic and interesting "Discovering Urbanism" discussion -- as usual!

1) In discussions of this type, however, I think one of the major problems (not only here, but pretty much everywhere) is a too "fuzzy" definition of what is, and what is not, urban "planning."

I see myself as being strongly anti-urban planning, yet even I agree that we need government to set some basic ground rules (and, as Jane Jacobs points out, to create the basic conditions for healthy urban growth). HOWEVER, I don't think it's accurate, though, to call the setting of basic ground rules "urban planning" -- it's just government doing the job that government should be doing. Governments were doing this kind of thing for many, many centuries before there was an urban planning profession, and many, many centuries before there were people claiming that this was "urban planning," etc. This kind of ad hoc problem solving, even when done by a governmental body is not, so it seems to me, true urban "planning."

It seems to me that it's more accurate (and useful) to restrict the term urban "planning" to the kind of "urban "planning" that is taught as an ideal in schools of urban planning (which are themselves a pretty recent phenomenon) -- the ideal of "urban planning" being a kind of self-conscious attempt at "comprehensively" planning (in a micro-managing kind of way) various types of human settlements. As I believe I mentioned in a previous "Discovering Urbanism" post, I see this "true" type of "urban planning" as being analogous to what is generally thought of as "economic planning."

But when a government determines the amount of money in a nation's monetary system, or the basic laws governing a nation's commercial life, etc., this is not, so it seems to me, what we really mean by “economic planning.” This is just a government doing its job (i.e., ad hoc problem solving). On the other hand, real economic "planning" is when governments try to "micro-manage" the economy and, for instance, try picking winning and losing industries, etc.

(to be continued)

# # #

Benjamin Hemric said...

PART II

2) While I do see the similarities between cities and the internet, I think it's a mistake to get too involved in a discussion of the analogy (and this is true of other analogies as well). Rather, I think it's more useful to look at the history of real cities and observe that most great cities (maybe all of them?) developed very well without being "planned" (in a school of urban planning, "comprehensively planned," kind of way).

Yes, governments in these cities laid out streets (or canals), boulevards, parks, bridges, etc., (in other words, engaged in ad hoc problem solving) but they didn't on a broad scale, as far as I know, really engage in the kind of "comprehensive" planning taught in schools of urban planning.

3) I think NYC is a great example (and also the city that I am most familiar with), as it did smashingly well, so it seems to me, before urban planners came onto the scene. In my opinion, the advent of urban planning has done much harm to NYC and has added little (nothing?) of real value.

4) I think the history of NYC also shows that you don't need "urban planning" (the kind that is equivalent to "economic planning") to build parks, bridges, boulevards, subway systems, etc. (Theyweren't built via planning, so it seems to me, but rather were a result of ad hoc problem solving.) New York has plenty of great examples of such things that pre-date the advent of "comprehensive" urban planning (and pre-date the accoutrements of comprehensive “planning,” like community planning boards, etc.).

5) I also think it's incorrect to assume that development today requires a different approach. NYC was growing in leaps and bounds in the early part of the 20th Century and doing it quite well (so it seems to me) with only a pretty basic (and very good, to my way of thinking) zoning code.

Tues., March 2, 2010, 8:50 p.m.

bill said...

I think Hemric is engaging in a bit of a semantic argument when he writes "Yes, governments in these cities laid out streets (or canals), boulevards, parks, bridges, etc., (in other words, engaged in ad hoc problem solving) but they didn't on a broad scale, as far as I know, really engage in the kind of "comprehensive" planning taught in schools of urban planning. " Comprehensive planning taught today is a direct outgrowth of the actions of both public and private boosters and visionaries you credit with doing such smashing work...There was a period when planning made many mistakes (and successes), but there was a reforming counter movement (jane jacobs) that has been adopted since then.

Benjamin Hemric said...

Part I

Bill wrote (in part):

Comprehensive planning [that is] taught today is a direct outgrowth of the actions of both public and private boosters and visionaries you credit with doing such smashing work . . .

Benjamin writes:

Although today's [comprehensive] urban planners may believe that they are a direct outgrowth of the activities of non-planners (e.g., private developers and government officials doing the work of relatively limited government, etc.), that doesn't mean, of course, that this is, in fact, true, and that they aren't mistaken in this belief, and that there aren't significant differences.

And even if it were true that they were a direct outgrowth, that doesn't mean that today's comprehensive planners haven't gone too far and, in doing so, haven't taken a good thing and made it into a bad thing.

So this perceived outgrowth idea doesn't seem to me to be really relevant to the topic under discussion: whether or not the relatively new idea of comprehensive planning is good ("needed) or bad (not "needed," or even to some degree harmful) for cities.

(To be continued.)

- - - - - -

Benjamin Hemric said...

Part II

Bill wrote (in part):

There was a period when [comprehensive] planning made many mistakes [A] (and successes), [B] but there was a reforming counter movement (Jane Jacobs) that has been adopted since then.

Benjamin writes:

[A]: I agree with the idea that comprehensive planning likely made many mistakes, but am skeptical of the idea that it has had "many" (if any) successes (at least that I'm aware of).

[B]: While there were, indeed, various counter movements (Jacobs being not the only major critic), it is debatable whether or not comprehensive planning has really changed significantly because of them.

For instance, it seems to me that a lot of comprehensive planners have an extremely superficial understanding of the work of Jane Jacobs and thus they don't realize that for all their talk they've actually adopted very little of her work.

Plus there are critics (including, to a degree, Jane Jacobs herself) who criticize the very idea of comprehensive planning, and it's very unlikely that comprehensive planners have adopted their criticisms -- as they then wouldn't be comprehensive planners anymore.

And, even if it were true that comprehensive planners had adopted a number of the criticisms of various critics, that still doesn't mean that comprehensive planning would now be good (or, supposedly, necessary) for cities -- maybe they had adopted the wrong criticisms? (Plus this would still not address the observation that even modern day cities seem to be able to do quite well without comprehensive planners.)


So this adopting criticisms idea also doesn't seem to me to be really relevant to the topic under discussion: whether or not the relatively new idea of comprehensive planning is actually good ("needed) or bad (not "needed," or even to some degree harmful) for cities.

- - - - - - - -

Thurs., March 4, 2010, 11:00 p.m.

Zozer said...

Daniel,

Great thoughts.

I especially appreciate that you point out the underlying structure of Web 2.0: that the software, on the front end, is easy and accessible for all, but very few have access to (or would even know how to change) the underlying back-end structure. Twitter is a good example - people can join and post whatever they want, but are constrained to 140 characters. Someone else set it up this way.

Furthermore, in the case of Wikipedia, there is Chris Anderson's (and others') idea of the "long tail" - that for the thousands of users who read the site, only a few make edits, and a very few among them make regular or significant contributions. It appears to be an entirely open community, but actual behavior patterns show that a few people do much of the work, and fewer still actually have some semblance of control over what's going on.

In response to Benjamin: it seems you are using a rather narrow understanding of what "planning" means and how it affects city form and function. While the historical view of planning (specifically the much-demonized "central planning") is its strict attention to urban form - street networks, building height, detailed maps of the Ideal City - I doubt very much that most of those in the profession believe this is their job description, however much they might secretly wish for that ability to start from scratch. Rather, I see it more as the constant attention to the cause-and-effect relationships between past decisions (or chance) and current conditions, and understanding where we might be going in the future. To go back to Wikipedia: on the surface, it seems to rely simply on an aggregation of individual users' edits. But take a look at the Discussion pages, the history of articles' expansion or consolidation, and the development of categories, content violation flags, etc. and you'll see that it has developed the way it has because of the care and attention a few people who take the time to organize everyone's efforts, to set up mechanisms by which the community self-regulates, and - importantly - is continually looking ahead to highlight which areas still need attention and how to better organize all of the information generated, in order to make it useful rather than chaotic. Everyone can participate, but that guidance from a few interested and "expert" users is key to its success - this is similar to planners working toward mutually-beneficial policies by looking at the big picture and framing discussions accordingly.

The analogy between urbanization and the Internet is not a perfect one, but it's an interesting way to get at those complex relationships between individual behaviors and choices, and the underlying structures or influential decisions being made about their environment. Saying "comprehensive planning doesn't work" as it is described here sets up a straw man in my opinion, as I would interpret "comprehensive" not as totalizing, but as an attempt to understand how the pieces - of cities, of web-based information, of social interaction - fit together. The Long Tail idea suggests that a few very active players are needed in order to set up the rules of the game, and as long as those rules are reasonable, most people are happy to play along.

Benjamin Hemric said...

Part I

Zozer wrote:

“ . . . it seems you are using a rather narrow understanding of what "planning" means and how it affects city form and function. While the historical view of planning . . . is its strict attention to urban form . . . I doubt very much that most of those in the profession believe this is their job description . . . . Rather, I see it more as the constant attention to the cause-and-effect relationships between past decisions (or chance) and current conditions, and understanding where we might be going in the future.

Benjamin Hemric writes:

The real issue under discussion here is not, so it seems to me, “How close do [“comprehensive”] planners come, in real life, to realizing the ideals that they are taught in schools of urban planning,” but rather [a] how are people defining “planning” (when, for instance, people say we need more of it)?; [b] how does this kind of “planning” differ from the way successful cities have been operating all along?; and [c] is this kind of “planning” (which might best be termed “comprehensive” planning in order to distinguish it from the everyday kind of planning that even non-planners do) good or bad for cities?

It seems to me that the evidence suggests that even the “less-than-ideal” version of [comprehensive] planning that real world planners actually engage in has been harmful to cities and has had few (if any) real successes (when compared to the kind of non-comprehensive planning that even non-planners have been doing all along).

- - - - - - - -

Zozer wrote (with the emphasis and additional word in brackets being mine – BH):

“. . . Wikipedia . . . on the surface . . . seems to rely simply on an aggregation of individual users' edits. But take a look at the Discussion pages . . . etc. and you'll see that it has developed the way it has because of the care and attention a few people who take the time to organize everyone's efforts . . . this is similar to [“comprehensive”] PLANNERS working toward mutually-beneficial policies by looking at the big picture and framing discussions accordingly.

Benjamin Hemric writes:

It seems to me that the “few people who take the time to organize everyone’s efforts” is not at all analogous to the activities of “comprehensive” planners. Instead, it is more analogous, so it seems to me, to the activities of traditional urban governments that stick to the basics – the laying out of streets, the development (and enforcement) of relatively loose building codes and zoning laws, etc.

Continuing to use the analogy to Wikipedia that was brought up, it seems to me that it’s more apt to say that comprehensive planning, on the other hand, would likely involve attempts by the organizers of Wikipedia, or maybe even some internet governing body, to try and divine BEFOREHAND (through careful studies) what they believe Wikipedia should be about; to then devise programs that would likely generate more of the type of articles that they believe the internet community “wants” and “needs,” etc.; and to try and discourage from being published those articles that are not “needed” or otherwise not seen as beneficial. Plus, if they were “community based” comprehensive planners they would also likely want to have groups of internet users screen articles for content beforehand,, in order to make sure that the articles that were published were, indeed, what “the community” needed or wanted – and also weren’t articles that would somehow “damage” the public sphere.

- - - - - - - -

(To be continued.)

Benjamin Hemric said...

Part II

Zozer wrote:

Saying "comprehensive planning doesn't work" as it is described here sets up a straw man in my opinion, as I would interpret "comprehensive" not as totalizing, but as an attempt to understand how the pieces -- of cities, of web-based information, of social interaction -- fit together.

Benjamin Hemric writes:

The “comprehensive” in comprehensive planning refers to attempts by devotees of [comprehensive] “planning” to eschew the incremental planning approach, or the ad hoc problem solving approach, that successful cities have traditionally engaged in.

Although it would certainly make sense for planners to try to comprehensively understand how the pieces of cities fit together, that doesn’t seem to be the case in the real world. Instead, “planners” – in real life – seem to be more interested in imposing a “vision” (their particular vision depending upon their particular ideology) on the world, rather than understanding the way the world actually works. (Sometimes the vision is just “planning” – that the world SHOULD be planned.) This is one of the criticisms that was made by Jane Jacobs and, unfortunately, it still seems to me to be a very accurate assessment.

By the way, it also seems to me that Jane Jacobs, through her SEVEN books, has indeed tried to comprehensively understand how successful cities (and, more embracingly, successful economies and successful civilizations) work. In my opinion, it’s a remarkable oeuvre that is sadly overlooked – in favor of an obsessive focus on only one or two chapters of her first book.

Sat., 3/6/10, 6:35 p.m.

epar said...

Benjamin,

I really don't think that what most planners do in practice (or even want to do in theory) is "comprehensively" plan a city in accordance with a singular vision. The planners I've actually met come much closer to doing what Zozer describes - moderating, organizing, and clarifying the ongoing public discussion of how to distribute the costs and benefits of development.

I'm currently in planning school and some of the exercises do involve "comprehensive planning", but that's more a realization of the fact that its impossible to recreate the public environment in which most professional planners operate - and we realize that. Even so, most of us use the "comprehensive" planning exercises as opportunities to explore a particular planning issue that interests us - wetlands development, or transit planning, for example. As I said up front, I don't think any of us wants to be a Moses or Corbusier.

So yes, maybe "planning" is an imperfect word for what city planners do, but such is language - there's no need to further confuse the issue by conflating it with something it almost never is.

Out of curiosity, do you think that what Hausmann did was "comprehensive" planning? He certainly had a vision, but he didn't really do anything outside of the basic ground rules you say you think government should be doing.

Benjamin Hemric said...

PART I

Epar wrote:

I really don't think that what most planners do in practice (or even want to do in theory) is "comprehensively" plan a city in accordance with a singular vision. The planners I've actually met come much closer to doing what Zozer describes -- moderating, organizing, and clarifying the ongoing public discussion of how to distribute the costs and benefits of development.

. . . As I said up front, I don't think any of us wants to be a Moses or Corbusier.

. . . So yes, maybe "planning" is an imperfect word for what city planners do, but such is language - there's no need to further confuse the issue by conflating it with something it almost never is.

Benjamin Hemric writes:

Since this has been a long discussion, I think it's easy to lose sight of what's been said in earlier posts. So I hope people won't mind if I quote (with some added emphasis) from my earlier posts (which I've slightly edited to save space -- and also, hopefully, to clarify too).

. . . the real issue under discussion here is not, so it seems to me, 'How close do . . . planners come, in real life, to realizing the ideals that they are taught in schools of urban planning,' but rather [a] how are people defining 'planning' (when, for instance, people say we need more of it)?; [b] how does THIS KIND of 'planning' [whatever you what to name it] differ from the way successful cities have been operating all along?; and [c] is THIS ["new"] KIND of 'planning' [whatever you want to name it] . . . [actually] good or bad for cities?

It seems to me that the evidence suggests that EVEN the 'less-than-ideal' version of . . . planning that real world planners actually engage in has been harmful to cities and has had few (if any) real successes (when compared to the kind of . . . planning that even non-planners have been doing all along).

(To be continued.)

Benjamin Hemric said...

PART II

Epar wrote (editing is mine -- BH):

He [Baron Haussmann] . . . didn't really do anything outside of the basic ground rules . . . government should be doing.

Benjamin Hemric writes:

Again, I'd think the issue is best addressed by quoting from previous posts (with some new words being capitalized for added emphasis):

. . . on discussions of this type . . . I think one of the major problems . . . is a too 'fuzzy' definition of what is, and what is not, urban 'planning.'

I see myself as being strongly anti-urban planning, yet even I agree that we need government to set some basic ground rules (and, as Jane Jacobs points out, to create the basic conditions for healthy urban growth). However, I don't think it's accurate, though, to call the setting of basic ground rules 'urban planning' -- it's just government doing the job that government should be doing. Governments were doing this kind of thing for many, many centuries before there was an urban planning profession, and many, many centuries before there were people claiming that this was 'urban planning,' etc. This kind of ad hoc problem solving, even when done by a governmental body is not, so it seems to me, true urban 'planning.'

Yes, governments [of successful cities] . . . laid out STREETS (or CANALS), BOULEVARDS [and SEWERS], PARKS, BRIDGES, etc., (in other words, engaged in ad hoc problem solving) but they didn't, on a broad scale . . . really engage in the KIND of . . . planning [that we are talking about as modernday planning].

It seems to me that it's more accurate (and useful) to restrict the term urban 'planning' to the kind of 'urban "planning' that is taught as an ideal in schools of urban planning [even if the actual practice falls far short of the proclaimed ideal]. . . -- [the kind of planning being taught] being a kind of self-conscious attempt at . . . planning (in a micro-managing kind of way) various types of human settlements. As I believe I mentioned in a previous "Discovering Urbanism" post, I see this . . . type of 'urban planning' as being analogous to what is generally thought of as 'economic planning.'

[In talking about economies]. . . when a government determines the amount of money in a nation's monetary system, or the basic laws governing a nation's commercial life, etc., this is not, so it seems to me, what we really mean by 'economic planning.' This is just a government doing its job (i.e., ad hoc problem solving). On the other hand, real economic 'planning' is when governments try to 'micro-manage' the economy and, for instance, try [to pick] winning and losing industries, ETC.

Mon., 3/8/10, 11:59 p.m.

patrick said...

Thank you very much for your kind words (and an excellent blog post)!
web template

Bill said...

I honestly think Hemric, has by the end here, really boxed himself in by his consistent elimination of various successful government actions (like the laying out of roads, or canals, or boulevards) for inclusion in the realm of what planners do, and by then professing ignorance of any successful thing that planners, or proto-planners, have ever achieved. This successive series of qualifications I think has shown that he is simply choosing to define city planning by a few comprehensive efforts of the reviled Great Society era in order to suit his larger arguments. He even brings up centralized economic planning.
When the government of India decides, ten years prior, to dominate the world of IT, and sets about funding education for the programs, laying down broadband, etc...is it engaging in good government planning or the picking of industrial winners or losers? I think Hemric's answer will just be whatever will fit his premise that informed people in authority are incapable of wise decision making, and somehow all through history things just only happened by invisible hands of the market and ad hoc interventions.

Benjamin Hemric said...

Bill wrote [added numbering is mine -- BH):

[1] I honestly think Hemric, has by the end here, really boxed himself in by his consistent elimination of various successful government actions (like the laying out of roads, or canals, or boulevards) for inclusion in the realm of what planners do, and by then [2] professing ignorance of any successful thing that planners, or proto-planners, have ever achieved. [3] This successive series of qualifications I think has shown that he is simply choosing to define city planning by [4] a few comprehensive efforts of the reviled Great Society era in order to suit his larger arguments. [5] He even brings up centralized economic planning.

[6] When the government of India decides, ten years prior, to dominate the world of IT, and sets about funding education for the programs, laying down broadband, etc...is it engaging in good government planning or the picking of industrial winners or losers? [7] I think Hemric's answer will just be whatever will fit his premise that informed people in authority are incapable of wise decision making, and somehow all through history things just only happened by invisible hands of the market and ad hoc interventions.


Benjamin Hemric writes:

As mentioned previously, since this has been a long discussion, I think it's easy to lose sight of what's been said in earlier posts. So again I hope people won't mind if I sometimes address the points being raised with quotes from my earlier posts (which I've slightly edited to save space -- and also, hopefully, to clarify too).

Regarding points [1], [3], and [4]:

It seems to me that a number of these points have actually been addressed (at greater length) earlier:

. . . the real issue under discussion here is . . . [a] how are people defining 'planning' (when, for instance, people say we need more of it)?; [b] how does THIS KIND of 'planning' [whatever one chooses to call it] differ from the way successful cities have been operating all along?; and [c] is THIS ["new"] KIND of 'planning' [whatever one wants to call it] . . . [actually] good or bad for cities?

Regarding [5]:

It seems to me that it's more accurate (and useful) to restrict the term urban "planning" to the kind of "urban "planning" that is . . . analogous to what is generally thought of as "economic planning."

Regarding [2], [6] and [7]:

The claimed successes for “planning” should be specified and then examined and discussed and not just accepted as being a success -- or failure, for that matter -- just because someone says it is one. The questions then are: How truly successful are these “successes” (i.e., were they really worth the resources expended)?; Would they have occurred anyway with just good government?; Did the resources expended take away resources from other unplanned projects that would have been equally or more successful? If there are “true” successes, how likely are they to result from “planning” (in other words, is this an exception that proves the rule, etc.) and would such “successes” likely outweigh the “failures” (e.g., the “batting average”) of “planning”?; and so on.

March 27, 2010, 12:55 a.m.