Planning Naked | Cessation of a Feature by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
For two-and-a-half years now, The Outlaw Urbanist has brought you a semi-regular feature — as regular as we can manage in the best interests of our mental health — called “Planning Naked.” It has been your (hopefully hilarious) guide to most everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine.
Due to changing circumstances, we are announcing a cessation of the “Planning Naked” feature. Somehow, we think the editors and reporters of Planning Magazine will be relieved to hear this news.
However, The Outlaw Urbanist is open to this cessation being of temporary nature, if there are any readers who would like to take up the mantle of fighting the status quo and helping to police the underlying — often hidden — assumptions of the editors and reporters of APA’s Planning Magazine by volunteering to write new editions of “Planning Naked.”
A ‘Hippocratic Oath’ for architects, urban designers, town planners, developers, politicians, and anyone involved in the creation of our built environments.
The Vitruvian Oath
I swear by the Great Architect, my Creator or creators of the spirit and/or of the flesh.
I swear by our shared Humanity.
I swear by our most vibrant and livable Cities, Neighborhoods, and Buildings.
I swear by my Brothers and Sisters in the world, wherever they live, whenever they lived or will live, making them my witnesses of the past, the present, and the future.
I swear I will perform, according to my given talent, merited ability, and best judgment this solemn oath and duty to and for our built environments, from the most humble abode to the most magnificent metropolis.
I will use my skill to enhance our built environments, according to my talent, my ability, and my judgment, always with a view of the people, by the people, and for the people.
I will keep pure and sacred life, body, and art in performing this duty.
In whatever lands I will enter, I will do so to help my fellow citizens, and I will abstain from intentional wrongdoing and harm to the form and function of our built environments, especially the abusing of my position for personal gain and vainglory.
And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession in my intercourse with colleagues and clients, if it should not be publicized, I will never divulge, holding such things as sacred secrets, except for transparency in those things that advance human sciences and knowledge.
Now I shall carry out this oath and perform this duty and break it not, for myself and my fellow Man, may I gain forever a worthy reputation among humanity for my life, my body, and my art; but if I transgress against this oath and forswear myself, may the opposite destroy me.
Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.
Planning Naked | May 2017 by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
Your (hopefully hilarious) guide to most everything about the latest issue of APA’s Planning Magazine. It is a tale of two issues for May 2017. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Strange, that seems familiar.
“Oops, did I say too much? Something to think about…” James M. Drinan, JD seems to reveal way more about the professional organization’s underlying, flawed assumptions than he probably intended for the From the Desk of APA’s Chief Executive Officer article (pp. 5) of this issue. In fact, it is all there in the title, “How Do We Shape the New Normal?” Think about that for a moment. APA’s goal is not any sort of objective knowledge or the scientific truth about cities, which would have universal application regardless of whichever political party held power. Instead, by virtue of what is left unsaid, it represents something that is subjective, open to change and manipulation for the circumstances. It is an agenda that has to be ‘shaped’ to the political philosophy of the party in power; albeit, apparently only at the Federal level. This confirms APA is not a ‘neutral’ entity but a partisan one (big surprise, right). Other professional organizations have been supplanted by competitors for similar reasons in the past. Did I say too much?
Planners who forget to, you know, plan ahead. “Lessons Learned from the Oroville Spillway” (pp. 11-12 in the News Section) tries to turn lemons into lemonade. Short summary: some planners and engineers forgot to plan ahead and anticipate alternative scenarios associated with the damn and its spillway, which, if anything, shows a lack of imagination. It appears to be an example of government planning at its finest. Yes, that last comment is sarcastic.
Where’s all of the affordable housing? “Shipping-Container Homes Pose Zoning Challenges for Municipalities” (pp. 12 in the News Section) demonstrates why affordable housing is a nationwide problem as local governments impose regulatory controls on (potentially affordable) alternative housing solutions in order to artificially inflate local property values (tax revenues and sales profits in real estate for fun). Here is a little mental exercise: remove the issue of zoning out of the equation and the name of this article becomes only “Shipping-Container Homes for Municipalities.” That sounds promising…
Wait, Bourbon Street isn’t car-free already? Which was my biggest shock about the “New Orleans Ponders a Car-Free Bourbon Street” (pp. 13 in the News Section) article. Nice of APA to advertise just how far behind the United States really is when it comes to catering for pedestrians. People say cynicism is not a solution but it is hard to read a news item like this one without becoming a cynic.
Our devious plan to regulate Airbnb and its like out of existence. Here is the not-so-secret plan of APA, government regulators, and real estate industry members – representing the ‘suburban model’ perpetuation of the status quo over the last 70 years – in “Regulating Short-Term Rentals” by Edward Sullivan (Legal Lessons on pp. 14). Resist! The longer Airbnb and other share services prevail (even to the point of permanency), then the more hope there is for the future of our cities. Fight the power! Be a short-term rental outlaw! That statement is probably enough for me to be charged with inciting illegal activities in some jurisdictions.
A breath of fresh air. Finally, some solid reporting and writing in the three feature articles, “Immersive Technologies” by Emily Schlickman and Anya Domlesky (pp. 16-21), “Mapping for the Masses” by Jonathan Lerner (pp. 22-27), and “Dark Skies, Bright Future” by Allen Best (pp. 28-33). All of these articles (generalizing here) discuss the potential of their particular subject, their strengths and weaknesses, and even the possible shortcomings in the future. In 15 years as a member of APA, these three articles represent one of the best sequences in Planning Magazine during that time. 18 pages of pure bliss; more like this, please.
Then, we come to the low point for the May 2017 issue of Planning Magazine: National Planning Awards. News Flash APA! I strongly believe Daniel Burnham and Pierre L’Enfant would be deeply embarrassed to have their names associated with APA’s National Planning Awards in general and with these ‘winners’ in particular. Let’s skip over the irony that Burnham was an architect and L’Enfant was an engineer. I mean, what is APA going to do; name an award after Robert Moses. How embarrassing would that be? Moses sucked and everyone knows it now. Also, have you noticed APA does not (apparently) have a national planning award named after Jane Jacobs. APA’s Standing Committee for the Refutation of Jane Jacobs (see below) must be still hard at work.
Anyway, I do not want to spend too much time on these so-called awards. Judging by the full-page insert on pp. 48-49 practically begging for more entrants as well as the low quality of recent winners, it seems relatively clear that APA’s National Planning Awards are experiencing some problems staying afloat just like APA’s Planners Press. Or wait, should I have not said something about the failure and announced closure of Planners Press? Next time, maybe publish better books (just a suggestion).
Have you ever noticed when APA is embarrassed, Planning Magazine does not show any plans or satellite views of particular projects? I mean, it is almost like they do not want you to know that they are writing hosannas and/or handing out awards for suburban sprawl. Let us take one example, the 2017 National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Landmark winner: Montgomery County, Maryland. Where is Montgomery County, you ask? It is to the immediate north/west of Washington, D.C. and to the near-immediate south/west of Baltimore, Maryland. Looks like an obvious location for high-density, urbanized in-fill between two growing metropolitan regions. You know, planning and design with foresight.
But wait, what is this? Gee, that looks like extensive physical evidence of suburban sprawl development patterns. The configuration of the ‘protected’ agricultural land is conversely that of the direction of the development patterns for Washington, D.C. from the southeast (the nearest urban center) to the northwest. Wait, it is possible this is part of a green belt for Washington, D.C.? Strange, I don’t recall the project description mentioning that information. Didn’t the Centre for Transport Studies at University College London demonstrate in the late 1990s that the effect of green belts was to increase auto-commuting travel miles, levels of carbon emissions, and suburban sprawl patterns (see The London Society’s refutation of green sprawl here). That is embarrassing. Not only is APA over two decades behind on this issue but they are actually still giving out awards for flawed policies perpetuating suburban sprawl.
But that’s OK. By implementing policies such as transfer of development rights (TDR) to protect agricultural lands, maybe Montgomery County dramatically increased density in its buildable areas. What is the average population density in Montgomery County, Maryland today? 3.2 people per acre. Mm, average population density for New York City (the ‘unicorn’ of American planning, I think it is far to say) is 43.8 people per acre. New York Ctiy is neary 14 times denser than Montgomery County, Maryland.
To paraphrase Britney Spears: oops, they did it again.
Planning Naked is an article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.
Oxford University Professor Calls APA’s Institutional Ethics “Dubious” | from Stuart Meck via LinkedIn
Fascinating and completely unsurprising post from Stuart Meck, Associate Research Professor at Rutgers University on the American Planning Association LinkedIn Group from March 8, 2013.
“I recommend reading “How planners deal with uncomfortable knowledge: The dubious ethics of the American Planning Association,” by University of Oxford Professor Bent Flyvbjerg and forthcoming in Cities. It is summarized below and it is deeply disturbing.
When Bent Flyvbjerg had his coauthored article, “Underestimating Costs of Public Works Projects: Error or Lie?” accepted for publication in the Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA), JAPA contacted APA to publicize it. Flyvbjerg worked with an APA staff member to develop a comprehensive media strategy to disseminate the article, including a press conference and exclusives with The New York Times and The Sunday Times of London.
Initially, the APA staff member found the study “very newsworthy.” But suddenly there was a complete turnaround by APA, which declined to promote the article, leaving Flyvbjerg on his own to contact the media.
Flyvbjerg learned that “higher ups” in the organization feared that “the media will cast this story negatively and planners will be among the guilty.” Once the article was published in JAPA and Flyvbjerg was successful in obtaining media coverage, APA posted what amounted to a disclaimer on its website, downplaying the study’s findings, which had concluded that massive underestimation of transportation infrastructure costs, based on a statistical analysis of 258 projects, could only be explained “by strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying.”
Flyvbjerg contends that the APA attempts to project a ” ‘sunny, relentlessly positive’ image of urban planning. ” He argues that APA violated its own ethics code – the AICP Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct -“on at least six counts” in the way it attempted to “deny, spin, and divert attention” from the article. “APA’s moral hypocrisy,” Flyvbjerg writes, “regarding its own Code of Ethics in the case of the JAPA study, and its denial about bad planning and malpractice concerns, should give planners, planning academics, and planning students pause to think about and debate the real ethics of their profession.”
He concludes with nine questions for public debate about APA and its role in setting and enforcing ethics for the planning profession. Observing that professional organizations that stifle critique “tend to degenerate and become socially and politically irrelevant zombie institutions,” Flyvbjerg asks whether APA is “in danger of such degeneration and irrelevance.”
Posted on LinkedIn by Stuart Meck, FAICP, Associate Research Professor, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and
Public Policy, Rutgers University.
The comments section is just as interesting (a few selections are below):
“I was a Charter Member of APA in the late 70s and Joined AICP in 1986. I dropped out in mid 2000, after many years of service in the local Section, because I felt that the organization, as a whole, was failing its members.”
“As a student seeking a BA in Urban and Regional Planning it is disheartening to see the potential denial of APA as an organization. It brings questions to my future and to the issues of credentials to be “officially” recognized as a practicing planner. “
“Being wrong about predictions is one thing, deliberately lying about it, is another thing. That is quite an indictment.”
” I found it very interesting and not a little discouraging, but also not terribly surprising.”
The fact that only fourteen people bothered to comment on this post on the American Planning Association LinkedIn Group page could be interpreted, in itself, as something of an indictment against the professional organization, too.
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” – Edmund Burke
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