As James C. Scott observes in Seeing Like a State, urban planning is extremely complex. People and cities are dynamic. There is a strong temptation for planners to simplify their task through “uniformity and regimentation”. Robert Lang, writing for Planetizen, discusses this in the context of “monster homes”:
Most smart growth advocates claim that newly constructed super homes unilaterally destroy vistas, deplete historic inventories, and waste resources. They are automatically viewed as a symbol of America’s rampant status seeking consumerism and antithetical to smart growth’s small, green and sweet image. However, as many smart growthers would say, there cannot be a one-size fits all approach. There are appropriate places for monster homes, you just have to look for them. Older suburbs that contain large numbers of small, decaying tract homes, can often boost ratables by allowing the infill of larger homes. A quick tour through the older suburbs turns up many communities that have a mix of large and small homes–building monster homes in traditional neighborhoods in city and suburb is consistent with the old urbanism. The once-thought ostentatious mansions of the robber barons are now the historic jewels of Washington, DC’s Embassy Row. Compromise, quality and context must be considered before automatic exclusion. Smart growth has to be a big tent that accommodates everyone, even rich people with bad taste.
Smart Growth Winners (Rich People) and Losers (Other People)
The Sustainable Northampton Plan presents Smart Growth (compact, transit-oriented development) as if it’s good for everyone. The problem is, different environments suit different living situations. In addition, mass transit has a troubled record outside of a handful of large, older dense cities…
Smart growth is great if you can afford to have everything you buy delivered, or are in excellent physical condition with a physically undemanding job; it is not so great if you have to come home from your shift at the nursing home to lug groceries a quarter-mile down the street, and then up three flights of stairs. Smart growth is great if you can afford to eat in the plethora of restaurants; it is not so enjoyable if you have to scrape up an extra 20% for the ingredients in tuna casserole… Smart growth is great if you can afford taxis when you need them; it is not so good if you are forced to take three busses to get somewhere you really need to be.Smart Growth: When Polls and Reality Diverge
…In Oregon, a bastion of smart growth planning, durable consumer demand for conventional homes with yards is evident, despite planners’ best efforts to encourage high-density development near mass transit and within Portland’s Urban Growth Boundary. The unfortunate result of these mismatched desires has been increased suburbanization, as families seek affordable homes in areas outside Metro Portland’s authority. Traffic congestion has surged as Metro Portland emphasized investment in mass transit over road-building, even as cars remained a popular mode of travel. Despite the establishment of a light rail line, the 2000 Census shows that transit’s work trip market share remains 20 percent below the 1980 Census rate.
New York Times: “Vibrant Cities Find One Thing Missing: Children” (3/24/05)
After interviewing 300 parents who had left the city, researchers at Portland State found that high housing costs and a desire for space were the top reasons…
Seeing Like a State: Planning Gone Awry in the 20th Century
In Northampton, the simplification du jour appears to be a drive to segregate our open space to the periphery, while weakening greenspace preservation in the more urban districts where it is already scarce.
Wall Street Journal Opinion Column: “What Jane Jacobs Really Saw” (5/2/06)
Given urban planners’ almost universal reverence for Jacobs, it is ironic that many have largely ignored or misinterpreted the central lesson of “Death and Life”–that cities are vibrant living systems, not the product of grand, utopian schemes concocted by overzealous planners…