Category Archives: Rants

Editorial comments about the negative effects of destructive urban planning, architecture, and urban design 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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Planning Naked | August & September 2016

Planning-2016-08Planning Naked | August & September 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

Hopefully, your hilarious guide to most everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine

The August/September issue of Planning Magazine is a Special Issue about the Local Impacts of Federal Environment Policy. It is sure to induce a headache. Hold on tight, it’s going to be a bumpy post.

Congratulations, APA Executive Director! James M. Drinan finally wrote an editorial, “Share the Street” in the From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director section (pp. 3), to hit the right notes… mostly. I did chuckle about Mr. Drinan’s comment that shared space “may appear startling at first to the average citizen.” I think what he meant was the ‘average planner.’ “The everyday experience of navigating our streets is an opportunity for planners to apply lessons – from Chicago and elsewhere – to provide leadership in shaping our evolving culture.” I never thought I would read those words in an official capacity in Planning Magazine. Amen, brother! What is that I’m feeling? Could it be … hope? Nah.

A plague o’ both your houses! “Disaster by Design in Houston?” by Ryan Holeywell (pp. 10) in the News section briefly covers the arguments (pro and con) about the role of private development in contributing to the recent spate of flooding in the Houston, Texas area. Unfortunately, the agenda-driven, black and white perspective of both sides of the issue (regulatory-driven planners vs. profit-earning developers) is the only clear thing that comes across in the article. Perhaps this is a topic requiring more room in Planning Magazine in order to more thoroughly review the issue? I came away only disgusted.

Celebrate bureaucracy, not results. “NPS, 100 Years and Counting” by Jake Blumgart (pp. 11) in the News section summarizes some of the activities celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) established in 1916. However, the first national park, Yellowstone, was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Is the creation of a government bureaucracy really something to celebrate, I wonder? The answer is no, which is why half of this news brief is really about money, e.g. NPS doesn’t get enough money, NPS needs more money, how can NPS get more money, etc. It is a tiresome, old school type of Planning Magazine article.

Be afraid, be very afraid. In the News Briefs section (pp. 11), there’s this little tidbit of information. Home prices in seven U.S. cities climbed to record highs in April 2016 according to Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller’s National Home Price Index (as if S&P can be believed about anything); only 9.6 percent below the peak a decade ago. Fortunately, none of the cities listed were in Nevada or Florida. Should you be comforted or frightened? Not sure. Plan for the worse, hope for the best, I guess.

Last stand of Communism in the world. “Welcome to Cuba” by Katie Halloran (pp. 12) discusses some of the issues surrounding historical preservation and the rapid return of overseas/American tourism to Havana, Cuba. It is an interesting update but mostly lacking in specifics. There seems little doubt this is due to the opaque nature of Cuba’s communist government, which seems to be following the Chinese model of ‘opening its economy’ from 20 years ago. We hope the Cubans do not make the same mistakes as the Chinese when it comes to rapid urbanization. The differing demographic scenarios indicate Cuba has an unique opportunity to do better, given the right leadership.

Come ride my yo-yo, please. It is disconcerting when the first line of an article is blatantly false such as in “Reading Between the Lines” by Stephen D. Villavaso, JD, FAICP of the Legal Lesson section (pp. 13), which begins, “Since the 1920s, courts have regularly given clear signals to professional planners on how to plan better and, maybe more easily.” The offending words of this opening sentence are ‘clear’ and ‘better.’ The post-war disaster of American suburban sprawl and downtown decline tells a different story. It is even more disconcerting when the next sentence completely contradicts the first one so both sentences are rendered meaningless. Yeah, the author is an attorney. Having said that, Mr. Vilavaso’s review of the constitutional issues discussed in the dissent to the Baton Rouge case is enlightening. This includes Euclidean zoning restrictions of building use based on the definition of “family.” This issue sits at the crux of the problem arising because of AirBnB, i.e. unfettered expansion of land tenure rights under suburbanization (which Euclidean zoning is manifestly based and promulgated) and the property rights of homeowners to use their property at they see fit when there is little or no evidence of negative impact to neighboring properties. The final three paragraphs of this article is only a historical fluff recap (e.g. Kelo, Dolan). Ignore the nonsense at the beginning and the fluff at the end but definitely read the “Beyond the final ruling” section in the middle.

When government doesn’t work. “Before It’s Too Late” by Brian Barth (pp. 14-20) is planning masturbation at its worse. There is a well-established response to dramatic climate change in human history, which is thousands upon thousands of years old: people move. What this article makes clear is the massive amount of time, money and effort being wasted on unnecessarily studying the ‘climate refugee’ problem to death:

  1. Let’s do a study to see who is vulnerable;
  2. Let’s do a study to see where they might move;
  3. Let’s do a study to assess the environmental impact of a relocation;
  4. Let’s do a study of the flaws in the initial study;
  5. Let’s do a study of project costs;
  6. Let’s do a study about cultural loss;
  7. Let’s do a study about so on and so on…

All humans are ‘climate refugees.’ Otherwise, we would all be living in Africa right now (and not so many of us). Here’s the real kicker: “…the inherent challenge of navigating the dozens of local, state and federal agencies implicated in establishing a new community from scratch have kept the pace of relocation efforts at a slow slog.” This is a cause célèbre about how government is the problem, not the solution™ (1980, Ronald Reagan). The people who live in these villages will eventually solve this problem themselves because they will have no choice. Government bureaucrats and planners will continue to squeeze as much cash as they can out of the process until the solution happens on its own. The accompanying article “The Resettlement of Isle de Jean Charles” by Craig Guillot (pp. 21) about a relocation in Louisiana due to soil erosion even admits most models of relocation planning ‘have not done very well.”

When government works. “Good Habitats Pay Off” by Madeline Bolin (pp. 22-27) is a stark contrast to the previous article. Bolin’s article actually discusses alternative tools to full implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) such as habitat mapping, Habitat Conservation Plans (HCP) and variations thereof. There is not a single mention about money. In fact, Bolin’s article effectively demonstrates how local, state and federal government can effectively work  together with the private sector to implement environmental protection measures. It is informative, interesting and useful. The insert “Federal Environment Laws and Land Use” by Ms. Bolin (pp. 26) is a brief, useful checklist of relevant legislation.

I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. “The ‘If’ Game” by Allen Best (pp. 28-35) is when I lost my patience with this special issue of Planning Magazine, began to stop diligently reading and went into browse mode. However, the real kicker is in the next article “Is Nuclear Clean Power?” by Susannah Nesmith (pp. 36-39). Here is a short summary: 1) nuclear power is bad for habitats; 2) a potential problem disrupting local habitat is identified with an intake pipe at a nuclear power plant; 3) a solution is identified (e.g. installing a grate); 4) it takes the Federal government 8 YEARS to approve the grate installation: 5) ergo the problem with nuclear power is it destroys habitats. Does anyone else not notice the Federal bureaucracy prevented the installation of a solution for years that, at worst, would take a few weeks to implement, therefore the problem is not nuclear power but the Federal government?!?!

Save yourselves! It’s too late for me! Sorry readers, my sanity couldn’t take any more of the drivel in this special issue about the Local Impacts of Federal Environment Policy in Planning Magazine.

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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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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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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The Weight of Debt | LaHood: ‘America is one big pothole’ | The Hill’s Transportation Report

LaHood: ‘America is one big pothole’ – The Hill’s Transportation Report.

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says “America is one, big pothole” and we need to “think outside the box” to find the additional $15 billion a year to support transportation infrastructure.

Mmm, let’s see… in fiscal year 2012, the United States paid $359 billion to service the national debt or, more, precisely, $359,796,008,919.49 (Source: U.S. Department of Treasury).

It’s not that difficult to out-think a box after all.

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