There is a vein of criticism of the urban planning field which argues that planners should get out of the way and stop trying to make people conform to what they perceive as the best land-use and transportation policies (i.e. mixed-use sustainable development near transit).
Perhaps no one embodies this disposition better than Randal O’Toole senior fellow at the CATO Institute and outspoken critic of government-based urban planning. As his CATO profile indicates in his 2007 book The Best-Laid Plans O’Toole advocates “repealing federal state and local planning laws and proposes reforms that can help solve social and environmental problems without heavy-handed government regulation.” So we’re pretty clear where O’Toole stands. I mean the guy’s blog is called The Antiplanner and its tagline: “Dedicated to the sunset of government planning.”
In his latest column Washington Post columnist Roger Lewis champions smart growth and debunks the notion that “heavy-handed” government is attempting to force lifestyle changes on citizens. As Lewis points out the renewed interest in urban living and the desire for walkable mixed-use transit-oriented development isn’t being driven by government policy rather by market demand. It’s what the people want; otherwise developers wouldn’t be building it. As Lewis correctly notes “Real-world market forces not theoretical are making sprawl-producing planning zoning and mortgage finance templates increasingly obsolete.”
So much for that big brother planner thing.
Lewis continues by explaining the factors that are driving this market demand for an alternative to large-lot single-family suburban sprawl – primarily changes in demography and priorities. Lewis notes that the assumptions that drove our land-consuming development patterns during much of the mid-to-late twentieth century have been proven absolutely false: “Much of America’s land cannot or should not be developed. Dependency on oil and limitless use of cars pose daunting environmental economic and geopolitical problems. Homogenizing and grouping land uses impede walkability diminish transportation efficiency waste energy and promote social segregation all without necessarily enhancing real estate values.”
If you’ve been searching for a rousing validation of smart growth and urban planning in general this is it.