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Planning Naked | Cessation of a Feature

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.”

If you are interested, email us at info@outlaw-urbanist.com.

Planning Naked has been a semi-regular feature article with observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Planning Naked | March 2016

Planning-2016-03-14Planning Naked | March 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

  1. “Partnering for Success”, this month’s From the Desk of the APA’s Executive Director article by James M. Drinan (pp. 3), is (unintentionally) a perfect illustration of what has gone wrong in this country: it’s not what you know but who you know that matters and accomplishment is measured in terms of knowing who to know in order to profit instead of knowing what to do in order to solve decades of problems in our towns and cities. In the grudge match of ‘Insiders vs. Outsiders’ in today’s America, APA thinks firmly planting their flag in the Insiders camp is a virtue. It’s not: it’s a symptom.
  1. “Coming Soon: Lake Erie Wind Power” by Daniel McGraw (pp. 10) in the News section is interesting but leaves some questions unanswered or unmentioned such as the impact on shipping through the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Seaway. Are northern, industrial cities along the Great Lakes completely abandoning any hopes of recovering industry associated with shipping? If so, why? If the project is viable without a Federal DOE grant, then the grant is irrelevant (i.e. it is corporate welfare for a Norwegian company). It seems like there are larger strategic issues underlying this story than a nominal press release for LEEDCo and Fred.Olsen Renewables.
  1. “Sagebrush Rebellion Redux” by Allen Best (pp. 12) brings up an interesting topic: Federal ownership of lands in the West. I don’t know enough about the particular issues in the Western United States to comment with any authority but I do think there is a more general, legitimate question at the center of the controversy: do we have the right model for ownership, management, and regulation of vast areas of public land for the 21st century? I don’t know the answer to that question but it seems important to better understand an answer and why. This seems further warranted by the Legal Lessons article, “Don’t Mess with Due Process” by Ilima Loomis (pp. 13) since it is beyond ridiculous that it should take 7+ years and counting to decide about permitting and constructing a scientific telescope (surely the design is close to technologically obsolete by this point).
  1. The articles composing this month’s cover (Substance, Role, Form) about comprehensive plans (pp. 14-31) are an editorial disaster. It reads as if the Planning Magazine editors wedged together more than a dozen articles by different authors by synthesizing them together under an awkward thematic umbrella that, in the end, was credited to half-a-dozen principal authors. That’s not to say there aren’t good, interesting items in here (there are) but it’s a chore to sort through the mess and the constant “take (insert ‘community name/plan’ here)” asides are irritating in the extreme. It’s like someone composed a checklist, which can be re-constructed based on these paragraph ‘take this example’ asides. Let me try to help the readers: pp. 14-19 is ‘buzzword’ fluff that reads like a committee of marketing agencies wrote it (ignore it unless you find yourself in need of action verbs); pp. 20-24 (to the first 2 paragraphs) is outstanding because it demonstrates the re-emergence of design (e.g. form-based codes, etc.) as the real driver of new approaches to comprehensive plans and, in typical APA fashion, the awkward structure is designed to subvert the real story in order to re-assert (or, perhaps, soften the blow to) traditional planning approaches in the post-war period; the rest of the content (pp. 24-31) is mostly more planning fluff and buzzwords except for isolated excerpts here and there about PlanLafayette.
  1. This month’s Planning Practice article “Design for Everybody” by Steve Wright and Heidi Johnson-Wright (pp. 32-39) is an insidiously great article that promotes humanistic design principles (i.e. not for the automobile) while cloaking the argument in the language of the left (and, by implication, APA) about addressing urban issues for special interest groups and socially vulnerable populations (e.g. universal design and accessibility for everyone “using simple approaches and thinking holistic”). This article speaks volumes more in 4 pages than the 9 pages (excluding the 2-page title spreads of each) devoted to the cover story.
  1. “Density is Land” by John H. Tibbets (pp. 40-43) is neither about land or density (not really) but yet another article about NIMBYism (“Not in My Backyard”) run amok. The fact is we’re going to be paying for the sins of the last 80 years for a very LONG time, especially in the Southeast.
  1. “Planning for Cities of Awe” by Timothy Bentley ((p. 46-47) is proof-positive that phenomenology (for good or ill) is not dead.
  1. The Planning Library reviews of five books this month are depressing.
  1. This month’s Viewpoint article, “The Displacement Factor” by Daniel Kay Hertz (pp. 52) does the unthinkable to the more-devout disciples of David Harvey and social justice by applying a common sense perspective to the issue of gentrification in cities. Finally, a voice of reason in the wilderness.

Planning Naked is a new series of observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

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Planning Naked | February 2016

febplanningPlanning Naked | February 2016
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

February must be the ‘clear the backlog’ month for the editors of Planning Magazine because this month’s issue is a strange mixture of useless fluff and wrong-headedness where the eternal bogeyman of the planning profession, e.g. ‘lower property values and higher crime,’ keeps making a spectral appearance in the articles, one way or another. This makes it extremely difficult to pull much of value out of this issue but we’ll try anyway.

  1. James M. Drinan’s “From the Desk of APA’s Executive Director” (pp. 3) editorial does not really say much of anything except “we’re re-launching the APA Foundation charity but we don’t know why.” Here’s an idea: provide some leadership. Student loan debt in the United States has reached record levels ($1.2 trillion dollars in 2015, according to USA Today) that threaten another financial cataclysm. Why doesn’t the neo-APA Foundation concentrate on meaningful and substantive scholarships for the college education of young planners? There, done, leadership. Sometimes, APA’s insistence on ‘navel gazing’ reaches ridiculous levels.
  1. “A Transportation Bill, At Last” by Jon Davis (pp. 8-9) is combines two things that a lot of planners love the most in this world: acronyms and money. Here’s the long and short of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act… oh, a cool acronym… that must mean it’s important because it’s fast!): for every $1 spent on the automobile (e.g. roads), the US Government is spending 0.24¢ on buses and 0.04¢ on passenger rail. It must be great to be a Washington lobbyist for the ‘automobile cartels’. To quote a song from the 1977 Disney film, Pete’s Dragon, it’s “money, money, money by the pound!” “He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.” – Benjamin Franklin
  1. The short bit (pp. 9) about Chicago investing $32 million in bus rapid transit for the Loop is a comedy of errors. Doesn’t Chicago already have one of the best passenger rail systems in the United States in ‘the L’, for which the Loop has already been well served for decades? What is the point of this investment other than to waste money? “Critics say so far it is falling short of the mark (BRT average speed is 3 miles per hour).” Well, of course. That money would have been better invested in ‘the L’..
  1. “Dog Parks on the Rise” (pp. 10) is an interesting piece. I have a dog and she’s part of my family, too. However, it also potentially plays into the planning profession’s ‘regular out’ to provide real solutions for urban problems by instead proposing a park instead because ‘who can object to a park?’ I can. Too often, Landscape Urbanism is code for political cowardice. Let the buyer beware.
  1. “Slight Change of Plans” by Rebecca Leonard and Joe Porter (pp. 12-19) is a dishonest piece. You know that any article that begins with “Here are a few names that will be familiar to planners: Jim Rouse, Bob Simon, George Mitchell, and Ben Carpenter” is setting up the reader for a fall. I am extremely well read in architecture, planning and urban design and I have never heard of any of them. It doesn’t anything say about me as a planner or reader. It says a great deal about Rouse, Simon, Mitchell and Carpenter and, by implication, this article. Here’s what you need to know. Unknown Person 1: Let’s not call it suburban sprawl. Let’s call it community development (code for Planned Unit Development, e.g. PUD). Unknown Person 2: Then we can’t call it sprawl repair. Let’s call it things such as “work in progress”, “change”, and “shift.” I find it hard to believe Leonard and Porter actually wrote the article this way (as I recall, previous articles from Design Workshop were more intellectually honest). I suspect the editors of Planning Magazine have interjected themselves into this article. See the aerial and street view of Columbia, Maryland below. Behold the sprawl and beautiful parking lots!

ColumbiaMDColumbia

  1. “Planning and the Presidency” by Elizabeth Wood (pp. 24-28) is a ridiculous piece of nonsensical fluff with a pro-Hillary Clinton message deeply buried within the article. Planning Magazine actually printed Wood’s notes about the menu at different events! Are you kidding me? There is actually an interesting anecdote in Wood’s article about how Donald Trump deftly handled an angry voter at one of his events, which is informative. Otherwise, this article has very little to say about the presidential candidates because Wood is asking the wrong questions (‘Are you willing to put a planner in a cabinet seat?’) based on the wrong premise (top-down solutions).
  1. “Could You BnB My Neighbor?” by Jeffrey Goodman (pp. 29-33) is worth the read as long as the reader does not swallow wholesale Goodman’s argument about the sharing economy. Here are the key words and phrases of Goodman’s article. “Home owners have taken in lodgers since the first settlement of cities.” This is the absolute, most important point about AirBnb and others in the sharing economy. It is normal. “Where does AirBnB pay its share?” Now we get to the real crux about what is really going on: namely, a money grab by local governments to secure more tax revenues and steal more money out of people’s pockets. Personally, I know several people whose homes were saved from foreclosure by the banks because of AirBnb and the sharing economy. And, as we all know, it is the government (through FreddieMac and FannieMae) who is really standing behind these banks because they are in (and lining) their pockets. The raising of the eternal bogeyman of NIMBYism in lower property values and higher crime only makes more transparent the self-serving arguments of those opposed to the sharing economy. Let’s fight for the normal, not the abnormal created in 1926 by the U.S Supreme Court.
  1. “Tiny House: Niche or Noteworthy?” by Anne Wyatt (pp. 39-42) is probably the best article in this month’s issue though the attempt to take a ‘neutral’ stance about tiny houses is strange (again, I suspect the editors for adding the question mark in the article title). The tiny house movement is one of the most important things happening in the United States today and, ultimately, this fact shines through in Wyatt’s article. As Wyatt says, “The tiny house movement offers opportunity for planners to look at some the planning assumptions.” Lots of planners don’t like to re-examine their assumptions because they know they’ll end up making an ass out of you and me (‘assume’), so to speak. Yeah, so let’s keep putting 650 square foot homes on a minimum 1/4 acre lot. OMG! Density lowers property values and increases crime!

Homepg village final

  1. “Zoning with Stipulations” in The Commissioner by Margaret Wilson and Tom Awai (pp. 48-49) overlooks the main point about zoning stipulations. It is the concept of zoning itself that is fundamentally flawed so you have to have stipulations for legal and practical reasons to compensate for that flaw. Teaching commissioners about zoning stipulations is like placing a Band-Aid over an open wound. Perhaps planners should think about healing the wounds that zoning has open up all over our urban landscapes in the post-war period? Just a thought…
  1. “Contribution of Urban Design Qualities to Pedestrian Activity” by Reid Ewing (pp. 50-51) is both interesting and disappointing, especially given the quality of Ewing’s previous articles in Planning Magazine. While I have no doubt there is a beneficial effect of transparency (e.g. windows) at street level for urban design and pedestrian activity (see Jacobs’ “eyes on the street” or why traditional street-based retail land uses have windows), it is seriously doubtful that the relationship is direct and causal, as Ewing’s article indicates. By his own admission, Ewing’s study did not account for the most important component, i.e. linkages. In fact, I suspect there is either: 1) a lot more to Ewing’s study than he is telling us; and/or, 2) his findings are a statistical artifact of this more important component, i.e. the urban street network itself.

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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Preserving the city of tomorrow | The New Criterion

Excellent article about
 the push to “reinvent Paris” by Steven W. Semes in The New Criterion.

Excerpt:

So what is driving this push for tall towers in a low-rise city that is universally admired as the outstanding model of what a city can be? Why this “explicit repudiation of previously successful typologies,” as the CEU report describes it? The answer lies in contemporary architectural philosophy and its demand that buildings and cities be “of their time”—that is, conform to the aesthetic fashions of the moment—whatever the consequences for the character of the place or the quality of life of the citizens. This claim presupposes that “our time” is determined by historical forces—the Zeitgeist—that cannot be denied or reversed except at the risk of being bypassed by “history.”

Reading the full article below.

Preserving the city of tomorrow by Steven W. Semes | The New Criterion

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Planning Naked | December 2015

planning1215Planning Naked | December 2015
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

This issue of Planning Naked may be a little shorter than usual since my print edition of Planning Magazine hasn’t appeared in the mail in months (you might have noticed the gap in posts of Planning Naked). Is it an APA conspiracy to mute criticism of Planning Magazine by the Outlaw Urbanist? Probably not, I’m dealing with address change issues and APA is an organization that moves at a glacial pace when to comes to change. So I’m reading the digital edition of Planning Magazine, which is a pain in the a… my fingers and eyes, to say the least.

10 Strategies for Livable Communities (page 24) as part of the Livability for All article (page 21-24)
This article follows up on AARP’s creation of a Livability Index for senior citizens. You may recall from a previous edition of Planning Naked that I pointed out one of the worst ‘suburban sprawl hell’ areas of Jacksonville, Florida scored a 50 on AARP’s Livability Index, suggesting the criteria was suspect at best. What is really startling about these ’10 Strategies” is the utter lack of the word ‘design’ appearing anywhere in the list. More so, it’s difficult to find anything that could be even implied to mean design as an component of livability. Indeed, most of these strategies involve ‘consultation’ and ‘competitiveness’ (i.e. economic aka making money). Just as Carly Fiorina chides Hillary Clinton by saying “flying is a activity, not an accomplishment” so APA needs to be criticized in a similar manner. Consultation is an activity (a means to an end) and not an accomplishment in itself. Personally, I’m sick of APA members citing all manner of acronym-ed organizations they have consulted as if this was an accomplishment in itself. It is not. Poor Richard:  It isn’t the quantity of the acronyms that matter but the quality of their (letter) characters. APA members need to be careful about flying to something shiny (AARP’s Livability Index, e.g. Won’t someone please think of the old people?!?!) and applying it without thought before understanding its underlying assumptions. Count me suspicious. Based on experience, WalkScore, at the moment, seems like a more credible index than AARP’s Livability Index. Besides, AARP is composed of almost nothing but Baby Boomers these days and it’s the Baby Boomers who got us, for the most part, into this mess. Should we really trust the Baby Boomers’ interpretation of ‘livability’.

China’s Evolving Art Industry (page 35-40)
Has anyone else noticed that the most interesting and exciting developments in practice covered in Planning Magazine tend to occur in overseas countries? Does anyone think this is decidedly odd? Are Americans just not really trying when it comes to planning? Very interesting article on the emergence of creative districts in China over the last 30 years. However, the article betrays a fear of change (“commercial success prices out the pioneers”). Change is the very nature of the city. Get over it, already.

Yikes, There’s a Tourist in Town (page 41-42)
Short translation of this article for you: Planning would be so much easier if cities didn’t have people. We wouldn’t need any planning at all, or cities for that matter.

Best Practices: Using Planning Data Wisely (page 43-44)
This is a very good article by Terry Moore, Alexandra Reese and Ali Danko from ECON Northwest about the proper use of data in developing sound planning policy and regulations. The only thing that needs to be added to their list of bullet points is:

Transparency: Be clear and honest about data sources and your assumptions about that data and its collection.

I thoroughly recommend this article for everyone.

Research You Can Use: A physicist tries to solve the city by Reid Ewing (page 47-48)
I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read Reid Ewing’s “Research You Can Use” article in this month’s issue of Planning Magazine. In it, Ewing explains why he rejected a submitted paper for a referred journal attempting to build upon Luis Bettencourt and Geoffrey West’s Urban Scaling Theory. I can’t really comment with authority on the validity of Ewing’s arguments since I have not read the submitted paper in question. Of course, Ewing is correct that the larger the city, the more you have of everything including crime. The aggregated population v. crime correlation is interesting at an abstract level (and should be totally expected) but not very useful for planning policy. For that, you need the sensitive street-by-street and block-by-block modeling techniques of the urban network such as space syntax. In this way, you can demonstrate the usefulness of such correlations between population, crime, location/access, and spatial vulnerability and potential proposed design changes to address the problem. There’s a lot of good research on that front. However, what is refreshing about Ewing’s article is the transparency. It is an excellent attempt to ‘unveil’ the scientific process at work. In this sense, it is very valuable. In fact, Ewing’s article makes me wonder whether there is some inherent value in all referred publications printing short summaries by referees for all rejected papers so that the entire scientific, urban planning community can benefit from seeing the process at work. Something worth thinking about as this could be ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ type of strategy.

Planners Library
Sounds like there are several, new books worth reading:

John Nolen, Landscape Architect and City Planner by R. Bruce Stephenson. Available on Amazon here.

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis Hardcover by Robert D. Putnam. Available on Amazon here.

The End of Automobile Dependence: How Cities are Moving Beyond Car-Based Planning by Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy. Available on Amazon here.

I want all three books for Christmas, please. Thank you!

Viewpoint: Planning’s Role in Social Justice by Grant Prior (page 56)
Have you ever noticed how often commentaries about ‘social justice’ are really nothing more than passionate calls for navel gazing? Justice is supposed to be blind so the concept of social justice is, in itself, an oxymoron. Mic drop.

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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