Category Archives: FUBAR Absurdities

Brief editorial comments about examples of the absurd in our cities.

Planning Naked | April 2017

Planning Naked | April 2017
Special Issue on Transportation
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

The previous issue of Planning Magazine (March 2017) gave me an excruciating, migraine headache and I definitely lost my temper while writing Planning Naked. I watched about one year’s worth of slow but steady progress in the editorial/word choices of the American Planning Association go out the window in a hysterical, reactionary response to the election of President Donald Trump; assuming these Planning Magazine articles are queued out a couple of months in advance. The fault is not Trump’s but the ‘establishment’ using any excuse (however, flimsy) to assert the dominant planning paradigm of the status quo for the last 70 years, which can be simply summarized as ‘Cars, Money, and Bureaucracy.’ I don’t have much hope for this April 2017 Special Issue on Transportation doing much to alleviate my professional concerns since the special issue on this very topic two years ago was an unmitigated disaster; especially the cover of vehicular road signs, which still irritates me. Let us see what this issue has in store for us…

A car is still a car. On the cover is the “front of a Waymo driverless car at a Google event last December in San Francisco (see pp. 5). So yeah, ‘transportation is cars’ is once again the front and center visual for APA’s Planning Magazine special issue on transportation. I can hear their objections to this observation, “But, but, but, but we have articles about bike-sharing and mention pedestrians and walking and rail and nature.” Yes, you do but the graphics and digging into the substance of the content only illustrates how APA ‘talks the talk’, ‘drives the drive’, and even ‘drives the talk’ but refuses to ever ‘walk the talk’ when the rubber meets the road. OK, there are a LOT of mixed metaphors about lip service in there but you know what I mean.

Ditch the word transportation. Maybe Planning Magazine could start with something simple like changing the title of this annual issue to “Special Issue on Mobility” or “…on Movement”? Just a thought…

Oh, chase the shiny object. “The Road Less Traveled” by James M. Drinan, JD (From the Desk of APA’s Executive Officer, pp. 7) sets the tone for APA as a professional organization chasing the ‘next shiny object’ that just so happens to pass across its field of vision. The advertisement photographs of planners playing in the exhibit’s area of national planning conference (prior on pp. 2-3) only reinforces the idea: Computers! Pinball machines! Free promotional pamphlets! Up, close, and personal with a drone! Virtual reality! Projector graphics and ice cream scoops?!? (Not sure about that last one) In any case, for this issue, it means new “disruptive transportation technologies” and “calls for infrastructure investment” (translation: there is “bipartisan support” to give us money), which can be linked to “economic development principles (jobs!).” Ahem, how about better understanding the road most travel by most people first? All of the evidence suggests APA is still clueless about that.

Cars, money, and bureaucracy. All-inclusive including the inside/outside of the front and back covers, this issue is 56 pages long. About 65% is really about cars, money, and protecting/promoting the bureaucracy/regulatory regime of planners. The issue pays lip service to other issues but…

Good News! You can be an Outlaw, too. The “New Hampshire Greenlights Granny Flats Statewide” article by Madeline Bodin (News Section, pp. 13) is great news! However, it is extremely disturbing that “the New Hampshire planning community was mixed on [the law].” Of course, the planners and municipalities initially opposing the law introduced a condition requiring that granny flats be ‘owner-occupied’, which is an insidious attempt to limit affordable, rental housing for lower income and young people. The Outlaw Urbanist would like to encourage all New Hampshire homeowners to violate this law immediately and continually since the ‘owner-occupied’ provision is essentially unenforceable. We are all outlaws now! “Lord I never drew first, But I drew first blood, I’m no one’s son, Call me young gun…”

So that happened… The “Zoning and ADA Compliance” article by Robin Paul Malloy (Legal Lessons on pp. 14) is an inoffensive reminder for people who might fall short in common sense, basic decency, and good manners.

I’ll pass, thanks. “Here Come the Robot Cars” by Tim Chapin, Lindsay Stevens, and Jeremy Crute (pp. 15-21). Full disclosure: I have known Lindsay Stevens since 2003. She is a friend. I have also met Tim Chapin, who invited me to guest lecture at Florida State University in Fall 2008. I don’t know Jeremy Crute. Out of respect for Lindsay, I am not going to comment on this article about autonomous vehicles (i.e. driverless vehicles) based on a study conducted on behalf of the Florida Department of Transportation.

I love the smell of sarcasm in the morning. Q&A section about “Disruption: Bike-Share” (pp. 24-25) in which Planning Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Meghan Stromberg interviews Jon Terbush of Zagster, a venture-funded startup company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts that designs, builds, and operates bike-sharing programs. I absolutely LOVE Terbush’s response to Stromberg’s question, “What are the minimum requirements for bike share?” Terbush responds, “Well, I’d still say the vision is the most important thing.” You can feel Terbush’s sarcasm dripping off the page after receiving such a backward ‘trapped-in-the-box’ type of question. Well done, Mr. Terbush. You smacked down APA and Planning Magazine even if they seemed blissfully unaware of it.

You can do those things that are ‘generic’ to all cities. The Q&A section “Disruption: Ride Share” (pp. 26-27) is a straightforward discussion about profiteering on the share services associated with the automobile… as if ‘unlicensed taxi services’ haven’t been around for decades (such as in London). That is essentially what companies such as Uber and Lyft are, i.e. they are circumventing government regulations (nay, restrictions) on labor in the same way zoning out granny flats restricts affordable housing and owners’ ability to profit on their property without the blessings of government. In any case, Andrew Salzberg’s closing comment is great advice, namely to “focus on things that are eternally true.” Well said, sir.

Oh, parking, you’re so fine, parking’s so fine, it blows my mind! Oh, parking! Ahem, four pages about parking with all sorts of buzzwords designed to promulgate the status quo. “Parking is an asset for cities,” “It plays a vital role (in making money, I translated the ‘code’ for you here but the “Driven by Technology” insert makes it clear),” it is “an important planning resource,” and so on and so forth. I was especially amazed to read how parking is “helping to reduce roadway congestion.” Along the way, the editors implicitly promote the decades-long myth of every Main Street shop owner, namely ‘Main Street would survive if we only had more parking.’ Planning Magazine does not say that, of course, but instead tells us people “will avoid public parking” if you charge too much for it. They do not mean people might walk or use a bike. The little 1” x 3.5” insert for The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup within the context of this article is quaint. See: equal time (<sarcasm).

Insidiously lies the crown. At first glance, “Connecting the Dots” by Greg Griffin (pp. 32-39) seems like it is promoting the bike share concept. However, by tying bike sharing to inequity issues it is actually undercutting it. This is ironic considering the equity and standard of living impacts of not owning a car are much, much worse and pervasive in American society. This article is insidious because the key underlying issue is American settlements have been building large rectangular blocks, expanded road widths, and consuming land for centuries, which the automobile has only accentuated over the last century or so. It is the spread-out physical nature of the American settlement itself, which generates many of these inequity issues. However, by ignoring the real issue (planning and land consumption), Planning Magazine can use the inequity issue to undercut the bike share concept. Not overtly, you understand, but by throwing up ‘cautionary’ impediments along the way in the regulatory regime.

See: APA mentioned rail. Planning Magazine pauses in “Rail Relationship” by Raymond Besho (pp. 40-42) to remind us that freight rail traffic is worth a lot of money, too. They then prescribe solutions to promote rail freight at the expense of livability for human beings in settlements; all in the name of “safety.” Trains killed 265 people in 2016 (Source: Federal Railroad Administration). Wow, it is an epidemic! Automobiles kill more than 30,000 people each year. Perspective, people.

In closing. I want to close out this version of Planning Naked by repeating the opening line of the “Cultivating Stronger Connections with the Natural World” article by Timothy Beatley (pp. 49-50):

“Too often nature seems abstract and far away, difficult to know and touch in any visceral way.”

I would like you to think about that statement. I mean, I want you to think really hard about the opening line of this article in a national magazine of a national organization dedicated to the ‘art and science of designing cities.’ I hope you do not laugh too hard when you realize the statement is patently absurd.

At least, this time I kept my temper and I did not get a headache. This represents progress of a certain kind, I suppose.

Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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The New Paleolithicism for Society | A Satire

The New Paleolithicism for Society: A Satire
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Our long history of urban experiences has climaxed in an unbearable state of being for humanity. Today, one out of every two people in the world live in a city; by 2030, six out of every ten people will do so; and, by 2050, seven out of every ten (Source: World Health Organization). Why do we relentlessly pursue the destruction of our own species with this rapid urbanization? The time has come for widespread changes about the way – and where – we live. We must be quick to take measures now to deurbanize the world before we fall into an irrevocable vortex of endless crime, casual murder, and widespread drug use. Why has the urban experience failed? Television, news, and the Internet provide the answer. After all, everything we see and read on television, news and  Internet is the verified truth. Simply out, the city is unsafe. Being safe – the state of not ever being exposed to the threat of physical, mental or emotional loss, injury or distress – is, as we all know, the ultimate goal of human existence. Safety is more valuable than faith, love or hope, except for faith in one’s safety, love of one’s safety, and hope for one’s safety. Theft, drugs, and murder are unfortunate facts of everyday life in the city. And the litter of our Victorian attitudes falters in the face of our particular urbane prostitutions. We must suppress these carnal desires, willingly fed by the city.

There is a story told in every city about a murder occurring in a public space as dozens of witnesses watched, willfully ignoring the horrible act and all failing to assist the victim. What is the solution to this problem? Avoiding large crowds might provide a temporary salve. Crowds are only found in the city. Some suggest a personal bodyguard for every man, woman and child, which would not only reduce the crime rate but also bring the benefit of returning restless populations to full employment after the horror of the Great Recession. But who would guard the guards? You see the logistical dilemma. Others argue the solution – intimately tied to the proliferation of personal protection services – is the right to bear arms. Indeed, the use of firearms from the cradle to the tomb would greatly contribute to decreasing incidences of crime in our urban centers.

But a plethora of bodyguards and firearms can only produce new problems for our urban centers, increasing demand over available supply for people and guns, and crippling our substandard pubic transportation systems (you see, two now travel where before there was only one). The problematic nature of public transportation first became fully realized with the appearance of mass-produced automobiles during the early 20th century. Highways are always too small, cars are never big enough, public rail is grossly unsanitary, and buses are forever late. A new approach to transportation is needed. A formidable suggestion lies in eliminating all forms of mechanical transport from the planet. In its place, a new human species would emerge, walking its way to physical fitness, excellent health and, no doubt, unquestioned beauty. The elimination of the automobile will also contribute to a dramatic decrease in teenage pregnancy (think about it). With the passing of the automobile, its supporting apparatus – the factory – would also disappear into the mists of the distant past. Since the Industrial Revolution first darkened our blue skies into a shadowy black, pollution has been of paramount importance for survival of the species. With the demise of all mechanical transports, the formidable pro-pollution lobby will, at last, fall to ruin. Unused factories shall collapse as humanity fully embraces a new multi-nomadic modal transportation. At last, we will have achieved a real solution to the dark veil of global warming/climate change descending over us since the medieval days of 1988. However, these are only partial solutions.

A more permanent solution is needed. In fact, so intransigent are the problems we face that it can only be concluded the solution lies in the construct of the city itself, or more accurately its destruction. A radical alternative is needed. We must begin with completely dismantling the major urban centers of the world. Suburban sprawl can only exist in the presence of an urban center. If we eliminate urban centers, then sprawl becomes effective dispersal in realizing a new innovative land management policy, which can be described as the New Paleolithicism.

What is the vision for New Paleolithicism, you ask? Our slogan shall be: 160 Acres, four guns, and three Domestic Partners for Every Household! Of course, we shall have to revise the definition of household since the word ‘tribe’ might cause some people to ignore the beauty of this solution. In this sense, a household means approximately 15 people occupying their own 160 acres on the planet. This ratio of 160 acres for every 15 people is based on the current density of human population to land mass. Every heterosexual male would be provided with two heterosexual females in order to perpetuate reproduction of the species. However, heterosexual male-to-female ratio in gross terms will not support such a system. This is where our LGBT brethren become a vitally important component in the equation. Some households must be headed and composed of domestic LGBT partnerships in order to make the ratio of heterosexual males and females work for this new society. Some households might even be LBGT/heterosexual hybrids (“Polysexual Households”). Naturally, since these commusexual and polysexual households will not need to support as many offspring as their heterosexual brethren, they shall be allotted the least desirable locations on the planet. Our LGBT brethren must climb this ‘mountain’ and cross this ‘desert’ on behalf of humanity. They will understand the necessity. The dismantling of the urban centers and the elimination of all mechanical transports shall facilitate clear air and healthy bodies, perhaps even leading to the end of Death itself. There can be no greater goal than being safe from the cold embrace of Death.

In the grand scale of human history, it is in the cumulative effect of these measures where true success may be discovered. The New Paleolithicism is the final solution. We must accept deurbanization of the world has to take place. Eventually, we must retreat to the trees. Trees should be easy to re-adapt for human habitation. Instead of scarring the land with dwellings, we will once again become part of Nature, return to the trees, and only eat healthy foods; namely, nuts.

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Planning | Stopping Stupid People from Killing Themselves

“I was just trying to do my best, trying to get from A to B, do a little shopping. I was trying to take control of my life…” – Edina Monsoon

Sunday’s Boston Globe article “The too-smart city” by Courtney Humphries reminded me of one of my favorite and funniest (implicit) critiques of urban planning: Edina Monsoon’s “Tax the Stupid People” rant from a 1994 episode (“Poor”) of Absolutely Fabulous. I thought I would post it for your amusement because sometimes we all need a reminder and laughter about the absurdities of life. The first time I saw this I was in tears from laughing so hard, especially once Patsy interjects her opinion.

No doubt the reason I found this rant so funny was, having lived in London for 8 years, the thought did cross my mind on more than one occasion that the purpose of the railings along Oxford and Regent Streets (and others) was, indeed, to prevent stupid people from running into traffic and getting killed. Of course, this is not the case. Instead, the purpose of the railings is to corral pedestrians on the sidewalk in areas with high foot traffic (like pigs in a pen) so the majority of street space is reserved for automobile traffic. London’s railings are fundamentally anti-pedestrian, pro-automobile planning measures. God forbid if pedestrians occupy more of the street space for their use to the detriment of keeping traffic moving! So, the real purpose of the railings was to prevent stupid drivers in 5-ton death machines from killing pedestrians, awarding ‘exclusivity’ of street space to these drivers when we should be slowing the traffic down in deference to pedestrians. In the late 1990s, London has begun to learn and adjust to this lesson. When I visit London (hopefully) sometime in the next 4-6 months, I’m eager to see for myself how far they have taken the lesson over the last decade. I like to think Eddie’s satirical rant played a small role in changing the dynamic.

A more complete transcript of Eddie’s rant in her audacious – but ultimately doomed – attempt to evade a parking ticket is below.

Eddie: Right – I, the proposed accused, think that, well, I mean, you know, well the day in question was not a good day for me, all right? But I put it to you that I don’t see how any day could have been good the way this bloody country’s run. Well, you know, I was just trying to do my best, trying to get from A to B, do a little shopping. I was trying to take control of my life, you know, only to find that it’s actually controlled for me by petty bureaucracy and bits of bloody paper – ignorant bloody petty rules and laws that just obstruct every tiny little action until you’ve committed a crime without even knowing it! I mean, you know, why can’t life just be made a little easier for everybody, eh? Why can’t it be more like the Continent, and then run down the street in front of charging bulls whilst letting fireworks off out of his bloody nostrils without anyone blinking an eye? Uh? Because it’s probably a local holiday and nobody’s at work because they all want to have just a little bit of fun and they’re not intimidated by some outdated work ethic. I mean, there has to be more to life than just being safe…

Judge: Is there a point to all of this?

Eddie: Yes, Yes!… Why, oh why, do we pay taxes, hmmm? I mean, just to have bloody parking restrictions- and BUGGERY-UGLY traffic wardens, and BOLLOCKY-pedestrian-BLOODY-crossings?… and those BASTARD railings outside shops windows, making it so difficult, so you can’t even get in them! I mean, I know they’re there to stop stupid people running into the street and killing themselves! But we’re not all stupid! We don’t all need nurse-maiding. I mean, why not just have a Stupidity Tax? Just tax the stupid people!

Patsy: And let them DIE!

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Dog Shits in Suburban Sprawl Hell, Property Values Rise 20%

A True Story about Shit

by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Today, I found myself in single-family suburban sprawl hell, somewhere in Northeast Florida, with my dog, Izzy. The reason is unimportant. However, being a dutiful dog, Izzy indicated she needed to go for a walk. (Note: She is 4 years old next month and the cutest dog with the sweetest disposition… but that’s beside the point). So, I hooked her to the leash and started to walk her through a neighborhood, which is the very definition of suburban sprawl. Yes, there was not any street inter-connectivity and we have to retrace our route into this neighborhood, giving us the “pleasure” of seeing the same Mega Mediterranean homes not once but twice. Of course, the homes are only Mega Mediterranean along the front yard facades. Along the side yards, the true nature of the homes as basic wood frame construction with really cheap siding, sitting on 1/4 acre lots, is obvious. Most of the lawns were neatly manicured with St. Augustine grass (by the way, not really a grass… it’s a weed but whatever), as one might expect. In spending about 20 minutes in this neighborhood, I passed about a half of dozen people at 6:00 pm in the evening. None of these people said hello.

In fact, only one person spoke to me. After Izzy had done ‘her business’ (meaning she pooped) in a front yard and I was bending down with my doggy poop bag to pick it up, a woman came rushing out of her house to tell me, “I don’t like dogs pooping in my yard.” I looked at her incredulously and replied, “I’m picking it up.” She said (and I’m not kidding), “I know but I spent a lot on money on this yard and I don’t want it messed up by dogs pooping in it.” As you might expect, I stared in shock at this woman like she was a crazy person. She did not make her political position on urine clear to me. I pointed out, “it’s fertilizer.” She then added, “I know but I have dogs too and I don’t let them poop in my yard.” I’m not sure but this may have been a ‘suburban code’, meaning ‘I make sure my dogs poop in the neighbors’ yards.’ I replied, “Call the police, I’m sure it must be a crime,” turned around and walked back the way we came out of the neighborhood, all the while dutifully carrying my doggy poop bag and carefully navigating through multiple piles of dog shit in the neighborhood common areas. Needless to say, Izzy and I will never be walking in that neighborhood again (not that it was ever likely anyway).

My normal experience in a historic, traditional neighborhood has always been when Izzy poops in someone’s yard, I dutifully pick it up and, if it is noticed, the homeowners usually say, “thank you.” Suburban sprawl breeds intolerance of the stranger and the unfamiliar… and, apparently, acute cases of coprophobia (an irrational fear of feces).

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The Audacity of Audacity | Transportation Secretary on Spending Binge Before Leaving Office | Planetizen

Transportation Secretary on Spending Binge Before Leaving Office | Planetizen

ray-lahoodIn February 2013, outgoing US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood was bemoaning the need for an additional $15 billion a year to fix potholes (see The Outlaw Urbanist post, “The Weight of Debt,” 2/7/13). Two months later, LaHood is apparently spending money like a drunken sailor in a whorehouse (no offense to sailors… or whores), throwing out $1.5B in grants like it was candy (10% of the total amount he previously said was desperately needed to fill potholes). Now, I’m sure local mayors and governments do, indeed, appreciate the largesse from DoT but there’s something incredibly unseemly about this situation.

From the article:

“LaHood is pushing the limits of his power. He recently earmarked $100,000 for the construction of a one-eighth scale miniature railroad in the backyard of his private home.”

See what I mean? The American taxpayers’ money at work on behalf of Ray LaHood. Surely, that has got to be illegal? Right? Generally, this is how you book a reservation at the Illinois Governors’ Memorial Wing of the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.

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