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Planning Naked | May 2017

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.

Google Maps view of Montgomery County, Maryland showing its intermediate, suburban location between Washington, D.C. to the south and Baltimore to the north. (Source: Google Maps).
Satellite view of Montgomery County, Maryland from 15 km (Source: Google Earth).

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.

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PAPER | A Fair Proposal

For Providing Affordable Choice in Our Most Prosperous Cities
From Housing Prices Being Less of a Burden to Their Citizens
For Making Greenfield Sites Beneficial to the Public Good

Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
The Outlaw Urbanist
Undisclosed Location, USA

info@outlaw-urbanist.com
www.outlaw-urbanist.com

Every day brings another news article and/or more data about the affordable housing crisis in Western societies. The pungent perfume of Lotium Pour Homme drifts through the parks and streets of our most prosperous cities, which are crowded with men, women, and children in desperate need of human charity and/or physical shelter. These homeless and chronically poor, instead of being employed for their honest livelihood, are forced all the time to beg sustenance of family, friends, and strangers; or else queue long hours awaiting the welfare of the State; turn to thievery for want of work; re-enlist to fight for their dear, native country in Afghanistan and/or Iraq; or, egregiously sell their dignity to the Fourth Estate. All parties appear to agree about the deplorable conditions arising from the manifest lack of affordable choices in the housing markets of Western societies. Therefore, whoever could devise a fair, cheap, and easy method for readily available housing, thereby making more fair the socioeconomic conditions of our greatest cities, would deserve nothing less than his or her statue erected as the savior of Democratic Capitalism. However, our intention is far more than merely providing a fair solution to the housing crisis. The goal of our proposal is nothing less than the salvation of urbanism itself and the city as a physical artifact of our collective, human nature.

Many people have had different proposals – many discussed, some implemented, and others ignored – for solving this problem over the decades. Yet, the problem persists, even worsens to this day. This is because most solutions have been and are grossly mistaken in their approach to the problem. It is true, Keynesian economics does have some relevance to urban problems at the discrete scale; and what is Marxist economics but an extreme, all-encompassing version of Keynesian principles. However, our greatest cities, especially those in the United States such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Savannah, Chicago, and San Francisco, were the product of private industry, both individually and collectively, before the 20th century. What has the Keynesian-produced city become after the landmark period of 1926-1945 in Western societies? Milton Keynes, Orlando, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Phoenix to name but a few. These are not places but are the haphazard accumulation of more locations. They are blasphemous to the goals of sustainable urbanism and synergy of place. Fairness in housing is choices. The most abundant housing supply offers the most diverse of affordable choices under normal market conditions. We must pursue normality in our housing markets, not their continual perversion under Keynesian principles. This means private industry aggressively increasing supply.

Developable ‘Greenfield’ Sites: (top) Central Park in New York, New York; and, (bottom) Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California.

At the same time, I have been assured by the publicist of a knowing Canadian of everyone’s acquaintance in New York, that thousands of acres of public parks and lands in our cities have enormous, untapped potential as ‘greenfield’ sites for private development to construct more housing supply in Western societies. The computations available to us strongly indicate the possibilities of ‘greenfield’ development might truly be without limit in resolving the affordable housing crisis by the provision of supply.

Detail-scale View: (left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Central Park area of New York.

Central Park lies in the heart of the most densely occupied, urban area of the United States: Manhattan Island in New York City. Central Park represents approximately 850 acres of raw land. It is readily available for the construction of affordable housing at the center of our greatest and most wealthy city, where there are an abundant quantity of enviable employment opportunities for our poorest citizens, while still leaving approximately 20% of that acreage (170 acres) untouched as ‘pocket parks’ in the newly created neighborhoods.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of housing units in the five boroughs of New York City was 798,144 in 2000 with an approximate average density of 54.3 dwelling units per acre (du/acre). Residential density in Manhattan appears slightly higher with about 72,033 people/square mile in Manhattan, which translates into approximately 112.6 people per acre. An average household size of 1.5 people indicates an approximate housing density of 75 du/acre. However, let us be conservative in our computations and proceed based on an average housing density of a mere 65 du/acre, approximately 15% above the average for the five boroughs but 15% below the greatest development potential for Central Park.

The City of New York could transfer 680 acres of Central Park into the ownership of private industry without cost, upon the condition that the construction of affordable housing within certain price point limits must commence within five years or else such lands will revert to public ownership in the future. This will represent a tremendous opportunity for private industry to profit on the land without having to bear the costs of its purchase. At an average housing density of 65 du/acre, this would provide for at least an additional 44,200 dwelling units in Manhattan.

With further implementation of this strategy on more ‘greenfield’ development sites of New York City, the number of additional, affordable housing units will, in fact, approach a doubling of the current housing stock of Manhattan. There are approximately 28,000 acres of municipal parks in the five boroughs of New York. There seems little doubt that some of this public land may already exist as ‘pocket parks.’ Let us proceed based on the idea that only 50% of this acreage (14,000 acres) truly constitutes potential ‘greenfield’ development sites to be turned over to private industry for the construction of affordable housing. At an average housing density of 54 du/acre, this would generate an additional 756,000 dwelling units in the bound of the City of New York, effectively doubling the capacity of existing housing stock associated with Manhattan and potentially reducing housing prices by a significant percentage across the entire metropolitan region.

Indeed, 130 square feet per person of recreation space for those living in the five boroughs seems redundant and excessive in a country where there are six acres of land for every single man, woman, and child. One might describe such space allocation as extravagant. It is akin to the false piety of persons who pray in public for the sake of demonstrating their piety for all to see and behold. Behold! We have so much space and money that we can willingly waste both in our cities and forsake affordable shelter for the neediest of fellow citizens!

It is true the property values of all existing homes in Manhattan and across the five boroughs would experience significant declines in price. As other municipalities pursue this strategy of ‘greenfield’ development for more affordable housing in Western societies, properties in such cities will similarly experience a significant decline in the face of a rapid and dramatic increase in the housing supply. It is likely such decreases in property values will prove only temporary as market forces slowly re-assert themselves over time in the absence of the previous restrictions on housing supply. Such a period might last two decades, and perhaps as little as one for our most attractive cities, e.g. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London, Berlin, Toronto, and so on.

This very knowing Canadian of everyone’s acquaintance in New York argues our most prosperous cities are populated by the most educated, politically progressive, high-minded, and enlightened of our citizens. Surely, such estimable citizens would be willing to temporarily sacrifice some amount of personal worth in the value of their homes/properties for the sake of a fair solution to our affordable housing problem. I am assured by numerous public proclamations about their most charitable nature on this matter and many others issues of similar nature.

It is also true that these new dwelling units in the heart of our most prosperous cities would only be affordable, in relative terms to nearby existing housing process, during the initial offering in sales to the general public. Eventually, the dynamics of the real estate market would reassert itself. This represents a tremendous wealth-generating opportunity for our most needy citizens through the mechanism of land appreciation. However, the initial injection of 44,200 additional dwelling units in Manhattan – and the potential increase of an additional 756,000 dwelling units in the five boroughs – would have a systematic effect across the housing market for the entire New York metropolitan region, effectively reducing the cost of housing in neighborhoods more peripheral to the five boroughs.

Nonetheless, the creation of affordable housing neighborhoods in the vacant lands of Central Park will perform a public good in another regard. It will finally end the suffering of the Upper East Side and Upper West Side residents in Manhattan, who have been long segregated from one another in social terms by physical barrier of Central Park itself. The new neighborhoods of the ‘Upper Central Side’ will forever bind residents of the Upper East and West Sides together in a new interconnectedness of brotherhood and charity.

It is also true that a ‘greenfield’ development strategy for some cities (e.g. unsuccessful ones such as St. Louis and Detroit) would be a fruitless gesture due to the number of public-owned lots arising from the wholesale demolition of historic housing stock over the previous seven decades. However, such municipalities may pursue a strategy founded on the same principles by the wholesale release of these public-owned lots to private industry with the same restriction imposed on the land in a ‘greenfield’ development strategy. Nonetheless, a ‘greenfield’ development strategy will also afford our most prosperous cities, especially those in North America, with an opportunity to further densify their housing and neighborhoods, thereby making public transportation alternatives such as rail transit more economically viable options in such cities over the long term.

Large-scale View: ( left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Golden Gate Park area of San Francisco, California.

Other municipalities of our most prosperous and expensive cities could elect to pursue this supply-side strategy for more affordable housing. For example, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California represents another potential ‘greenfield’ site of 810 acres (less 20% retained for ‘pocket parks’ of the total 1,013 acres). At a mere 50 du/acre, this could represent another 40,500 dwelling units introduced in short order to the San Francisco housing market. According to the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, they manage approximately 3,400 acres of parkland in San Francisco alone. Again, using conservative computations, this potentially translates into an additional 85,000 dwelling units with approximately half of that situated in the former Golden Gate Park.

Detail-scale View: (left) Existing, and (right) Proposed affordable housing neighborhoods for Golden Gate Park area of San Francisco, California.

In central London, the potential of ‘greenfield’ development sites for more affordable housing is significant in such places as Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park, Lee Valley Park, Richmond Park, and Hampstead Health, which alone could conservatively account for an additional 350,000 dwelling units in the London housing market.

Potential ‘greenfield’ development sites for affordable housing neighborhoods include Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park, Lee Valley Park, Hampstead Health, and Richmond Park in London, United Kingdom.

Simultaneously, if every national bank and even all Federal, state, and local government agencies released all of the properties and housing units they owned on to the market, this would have an immediate effect of reducing cost by dramatically increasing the supply of housing and/or sites for housing. Indeed, for at least a decade now, perhaps even longer, our national banks, many headquartered in the Wall Street ‘heart’ of Manhattan, have desperately sought a means to make a more honest profit. Releasing all of the properties on their books will be an important step along their way to redemption in the eyes of our fellow citizens.

THE END
(With apologies to Jonathan Swift)

Download a printable PDF of this article here.
(Corrected PDF, 7:54 pm)

Bibliography and References
Population density and land area data compiled based on U.S. Census Bureau, Wikipedia, City of New York, City of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department, and Greater London Authority.

Florida, Richard. 2016. “Mapping How America’s Metro Areas Voted.” CityLab, December 1, 2016, retrievable at http://www.citylab.com/politics/2016/12/mapping-how-americas-metro-areas-voted/508313/.

Major, M.D. 2017. The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids. New York: Routledge Books/Taylor & Francis Group, forthcoming in Fall 2017.

Swift, Jonathan. 1729. A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick.

Illustrations
Central Park, Manhattan: Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, retrievable here.
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco: Photograph by Rich Prillinger, retrievable here.
New York, New York with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.
San Francisco, California with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.
London, United Kingdom with Building Footprints: Originally available from schwarzplan.eu, retrievable here.

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A Dark Curtain Falls Across the Middle East

A Dark Curtain Falls Across the Middle East
by Mark David Major, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

NOTE: We are momentarily stepping away from urban subjects to discuss bigger issues However, the anti-government protests in Turkey did originate in the realm of urban development.

Incrementally, inch-by-inch, from the shores of Tripoli to the Bosporus Straits to the Khyber Pass, there is a dark curtain falling across the Middle East. It was the late writer, Christopher Hitchens, who coined the phrase “Islamo-Fascism” after 9/11. He did so to accurately characterize this latest threat to the principles of liberty and justice. This is the “inheritance” Winston Churchill traced in his famous Iron Curtain speech “through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law find(ing) their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence” Over the last decade, we have abbreviated Hitchens’ term into the shorthand term of “Jihadist”. However, Hitchens original formulation remains precise because it recognizes the very long history of totalitarianism (too long to recount here) and 20th century flirtation with the fascism of Nazi Germany in the Middle East. In the post-war period, this history of tyranny and flirtation with genocide metastasized around an expressed goal: the destruction of Israel.

Like Libya before it, Jihadists have infiltrated the pro-democracy rebellion in Syria while Hezbollah fighters enter the country in support of the tyrannical government of Bashar al-Assad. In essence, this rebellion now pits one model of tyranny against another with the democratic elements poised to be sidelined/eliminated once their immediate usefulness against the Assad government is over. Jihadists used the grassroots, pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring as a springboard to political power in Egypt. Now Islamic-rooted Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s riot police used tear gas and pressurized water hoses in a dawn raid on Friday against a peaceful sit-in to prevent the uprooting of trees at a local park. The initial protest has expanded beyond urban renewal issues to demonstrations against new laws recently enacted that restrict the sale and advertising of alcohol and public displays of affection (i.e. kissing). The implications for the West of ‘losing Turkey’ (which already has a Jihadist-tainted government) are profound.

What is American and Western policy towards the Middle East? Does anybody know? It appears to wildly fluctuate from situation to situation and moment to moment. Our policy circles around the strategic signpost “to keep the oil flowing” while veering back and forth between (often mistaken) tactical assessments about what is easy (i.e. Libya, intervene; Afghanistan, surge) or what is hard (i.e. Syria, stay out of it; Iraq; get out), which is to say there is no coherent policy at all. This is no way for a “great” county and civilization (which we aspire to and often claim on behalf of the United States and Western Europe) to conduct its affairs. Given these conditions, it should not be a surprise to anyone the “huddle masses yearning to breathe free” on the Arab streets are befuddled and frustrated by the incoherent policies of the United States and Western Europe. After 9/11, the United States and Western Europe made a mistake. It was an honest mistake because it was born of anger but a mistake nonetheless. We thought Al-Qaeda’s attack was about us. It was not, it was about power. Subsequent events in the Middle East have demonstrated the agenda of the Jihadists is to achieve political power, oppress liberal-minded citizens and thought (such as Christianity), and accumulate power for its own sake. In his second augural address, George W. Bush attempted to frame the current threat on more solid footing as a struggle against tyranny, liberty versus oppression, and the dreams of freedom for the many in opposition to the pursuit of power by a few.

Many in the West ridiculed this reframing by the American President into the “Freedom Agenda” as hopelessly naïve. You cannot fight and defeat an idea. Of course, they are correct. However, ideas take on recognizable forms. In democratic societies, these forms include free markets, freedom of movement, and tolerance of the Other. In oppressive regimes, they take the form of financial corruption, the elevation of state power over individual liberty, and intolerance of the Other. You fight and defeat the forms that tyranny takes in the world. It is time for the United States and the West to revisit its Cold War model and adapt the mechanism for this new threat. This includes the expansion of domestic oil production in North America in order to wean our societies (and, increasingly, China) off the teat of Middle Eastern oil. For the first time in decades, the United States is exporting oil. We need to rapidly expand this capacity. North American should be the principal supplier of oil to China lest we lose a (potentially) powerful ally in the coming struggle to the same dependency, which caused us to indirectly finance the current threat. In the process, we need to get our fiscal house in order. A new policy should include containment. We must develop a strategy for the Middle East to halt the expansion of Islamo-Fascism, which includes modernizing (perhaps even expanding) our nuclear deterrent and reconstituting the doctrine of having the military capacity to fight two wars simultaneously. As part of this containment strategy, we will have to recognize and accept we may lose some countries (like Egypt) along the way but, in the modern era of globalization, mass communications, and the internet, these are more likely to be temporary situations. A similar transition as witnessed during the Cold War is likely to occur at a much more rapid rate (taking years instead of decades). Finally, we must actively engage in destabilizing these tyrannical regimes by any means necessary, including clandestine activities, expanded intelligence gathering ‘on the ground’, Wi-Fi American Free (a modern adaption of the Radio Free Europe concept) and filtering financial support to grassroots democratic movements. Our view should be on the end game, not the distractions of the moment. And our end game should always be to grow the “tree of liberty” for all, lest we condemn more than 300 million people to the darkness.

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20 Theses for Political Reformation

“The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – Thomas Jefferson

1.         The Left and the Right Define the Box Within We Are Trapped!
We must break out of the tyranny defined by the ideologies of left and right in our country to chart a new course for our People, communities and country for the next 250 years. We must do this whilst recognizing our leadership role in the world and reinvigorating the Jeffersonian ideals on which our country was founded.

“Experience hath (shown), that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

2.         Constitutional reform now!
Convene a constitutional convention: we must dare to re-imagine the republican foundations of our Federal and State governments and the relationship between the national and local interests of the People whilst always protecting the Bill of Rights (including the 2nd Amendment). States should follow the lead of the Federal government in re-imagining our governments from top-to-bottom.

3.         Cherish the statesman. Forsake the political animal!
Two (2) representatives from each state/commonwealth in the union shall comprise the constitutional convention membership. Governors should appoint the ‘best and the brightest’ using their conscience, not their interest. Party affiliation is irrelevant. Ideology is irrelevant. Race, sex and creed are irrelevant.

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

4.         A Republic, not a Democracy!
Halve the size of our political leadership in Federal and State government: one (1) senator from each state means fifty (50) senators; one (1) representative per 150,000 People means two hundred seventeen (217) congressional representatives. Representation in State governments should be similarly downsized, where appropriate.

5.         End 365/24/7 Political Campaigns!
Extend the terms of elected representatives: four (4) year terms for representatives (four term limits); eight (8) year term for senators (two term limits); and, six (6) year term for the president/governors (two term limits). This will alleviate the need for constant campaigning/fundraising and allow our representatives to lead rather than follow.

6.         End Gerrymandering
Representative districts should be convex in shape, defined by clear geographical and physical boundaries (natural and man-made) rather than gerrymandered to incorporate specific demographic populations to give advantage to one party over another at election time. There is nothing wrong with a diverse electorate and our leaders will be better for representing multiple points of view.

 7.         Referendum Prohibition
Establish an explicit constitutional prohibition against political referendum at the Federal and State level. Popular vote referendums lead to governmental anarchy and paralysis. California has been destroyed by the democracy of referendums, and Florida and other states are foolishly following close behind on this well-traveled path to destruction.

“Democracy leads to anarchy, which is mob rule.” – Plato

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the People may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” – Thomas Jefferson

8.         Prune the Overgrown Branches of Federalism!
Eliminate and/or consolidate the expansion of Executive Power. This means de-evolving ‘health and human’ services closer to the People served at the State level (education, housing, health) and the Federal government focusing on its core responsibilities to the People: war and peace, law and order, national defense and international commerce and relations.

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the People under the pretense of taking care of them.” – Thomas Jefferson

9.         Half the Size of the Federal Government!
Eliminate and/or consolidate more than 1,000 Federal agencies, many of them obsolete or redundant. Merge agencies with overlapping missions, de-evolve others to the State level, and eradicate those that are obsolete or irrelevant.

“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.” – Thomas Jefferson

10.       Not Isolationism but Consolidate-ism!
Consolidate our forward assets/presence abroad by realigning to a core mission serving our strategic interests rather than the expansive application of military and economic power in all geographical spheres of the world. Reduce our military footprint in Europe (defend yourselves!). The Monroe Doctrine should take precedent: protecting and strengthening our sphere of influence and partnerships in the Americas.

11.       Rationalize the Disposition of Our Military
Re-deploy our military bases (at home and aboard) to better serve our strategic interests rather than to serve the political and economy interests of a specific community or politicians.

12.       Expand National Service
Require a minimum three (3) year period of service for all citizens between the ages of 18-21 in the US military, or alternatively in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps. No exceptions.

13.       Trust Bust “Too Big to Fail” Corporations
Corporations that are “too big to fail” are 21st century representations of anti-trust monopolies. These corporations should be regulated and, where necessary, broken apart in order to facilitate market competition. No private business should be eligible for a government protection ever. Innovate and compete or perish! Government protection perverts market dynamics.

14.       Reform the Market
Ban quarterly reporting of return on profits, institute annual reporting within the context of 5-10 year business plan models. Short-term, tunnel vision obsession with profit (otherwise known as greed) perverts our markets. Regulate predatory lending and usury exploitation of consumers by banks. Further reform of bankruptcy laws to protect consumers (see #16 below regarding expanding credit).

15.       State-by-State Universal Health Care
Establish a single payer, public health insurance program in each state (or regional plans amalgamating states for less populous regions of the union) and allow for cross-border competition of these public insurance plans. Adopt tort-reform to limit awards for malpractice lawsuits. Allow public-private partnerships (“pubvates”) between states and private insurance companies to meet the need for health care insurance.

16.       Reform Social Security
Instigate social security reform to allow: 1) investment by Social Security Trust in low-interest yielding government bonds to facilitate expanded investment in our infrastructure; and, 2) private accounts (maximum: 50% of personal contributions) for citizens to invest in market at their own discretion (within certain limits to avoid excessive risk-taking). Allow personal contributions above minimums prescribed by law. Increased availability of monies in the market will provide a safety net for credit markets without perverting market dynamics. Increase the retirement age to more accurate reflect average lifespans in today’s world.

17.       Decriminalize Human Vice
Constitutionally decriminalize, regulate and tax human vices such as gambling, narcotics and prostitution. Instead of spending billions of dollars to fight human nature in mock ‘wars’, allow individual choice on vice and generate billions to regulate and monitor such vices. Reserve the power to regulate, monitor and collect taxes for the states (a Federal top-off of the tax rate should be allowed). Lower the minimum drinking age to 18 years old (if you can vote, you can drink).

18.       Cherish Innocent Life!
Adopt constitutional ban on abortion except for cases of protecting the life of the mother. Instigate adoption reform so it takes a maximum of twelve (12) month to adopt a child in this country. Allow single parent and homosexual partners to adopt abandoned children. Adopt more stringent guidelines for the application of the death penalty. The death penalty should be reserved for the “monsters of our nightmares”.

“Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

19.       Constitutional Reserve of Powers
Further clarify the application of Federal power between the three co-equal branches of governments: legislative branch legislates; executive branch implements; and, judicial interprets. Limit some expansions of executive power (presidential decrees), limit legislative usurping of executive powers, and retard legislative branch forfeiting of power to the judicial branch.

20.       Reform Libel Laws
Freedom of speech must be maintained but injured parties must have recourse to seek relief from the legal system for perversion of the truth, especially by those in the media. Freedom of speech is irrelevant when the truth has been destroyed.

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the People… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was originally posted on the Metro Jacksonville online magazine discussion forum on January 20, 2010. It generated 0 comments, arguments, or discussion. I can only assume it was because either: 1) it was thought to be basic common sense; 2) so radical as to not warrant additional comment; or, 3) everyone just wants to argue and no one is really interested in solutions. I’m not sure. You decide. Mark David Major

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Amendment 4 Commercial Script

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the final script for an online political ad in support of Florida Hometown Democracy (Amendment 4) during the November 2010 elections. I have no idea if the ad was ever finished or aired.

Amendment 4 Commercial Script
by Mark David Major, AICP

Hello! My name is Mark David Major. I’m a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners and I’ve lived – and worked – in Florida for nearly a decade now. Over the last decade, as Senior Planner for Nassau County, a planner for one of the largest home builders in the state, and a small business owner, I have worked on both sides of the table on growth and development issues in Florida; ALWAYS based on the principle my primary ethical obligation is to the public good, and to speak clearly and honestly about growth issues to the public, my employers, and my clients.

I want to talk to you today about why I’m supporting Amendment 4, or “Florida Hometown Democracy”, and why I’m urging you to vote YES on Amendment this November 2nd. During my time in Florida, it has become abundantly clear to me how we manage growth and development in our state simply does not work. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Even those who opposed Amendment 4, openly admit it does not work. And you don’t have to take their word for it either.

Over the past 2 years, Floridians from all walks of life have experienced first-hand the catastrophic effects of our real estate market being Ground Zero for a Global Recession that has led to 1 out of every 5 Americans being out of work. Banks have foreclosed on homes at a rate not seen in this country since the Great Depression. There are record numbers of people filing for bankruptcy. The scale of personal debt defies description and the scale of government debt is beyond comprehension. The decline in the value of our homes has been massive. And it has all been a direct result of the way we’ve planned, grown, developed and built our communities, neighborhoods, and homes over the last 30 years. It is not an accident the areas of Florida hardest hit by home devaluation during this Great Recession has been those characterized by unsustainable, energy-inefficient, suburban sprawl neighborhoods. That’s because when the housing bubble burst, the bill for reckless growth finally came due.

So what’s the solution? Amendment 4 proposes to give voters a voice in how their neighborhoods, towns, and communities grow and develop. But even more importantly, approval of Amendment 4 will cause businesses and developers to make smarter decisions about what land they buy and develop long before the public becomes ever involved, leading to better and smarter projects. Instead of being driven but what is the cheapest land to develop, developers will have to decide what is the best land to develop. This will lead to smarter growth in Florida.

Now the opponents of Amendment 4 have a clear political strategy to try to defeat this ballot measure: to confuse the issue and try to scare you. They are saying approval of Amendment 4 will cause Florida to lose jobs but we’ve already lost tens of thousands of jobs. They are saying approval of Amendment 4 will cost Florida’s economy billions of dollars but our economy has already lost billions of the dollars. They say approval of Amendment 4 hand power over to special interest lawyers but our dysfunctional system is already dominated by special interest lawyers lobbying on behalf of landowners and developers. They say approval of Amendment 4 will mean higher property taxes but that’s only because our homes have lost so much of their value due to their reckless development practices.  The opponents of Amendment 4 want cheap land because they are poised, even eager, to make the same mistakes all over again because they know how to exploit cheap land and leave you the bill for the next time the bubble bursts. It’s ironic, on one hand, the opponents of Amendment 4 are trying to confuse you into believing approval of Amendment will not really change anything and, on the other hand, they are trying to scare you into believing the solution to our current problems is more of the same. Do you really want more of the same?

Americans built this country by being explorers and pioneers; by dreaming of a better tomorrow and then daring to make it a reality. I urge you to do the same by voting YES on Amendment 4 this November 2nd and daring to dream today of a better Florida, a smarter Florida for you and your family tomorrow.

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