Tag Archives: Urban Planning

Viewpoint APA Was Too Afraid to Publish

Good theory leads to good planning and normative theory – without quantitative observation and validation using scientific method – is nothing more than subjective opinion masquerading as theoretical conjecture, says Mark David Major, senior planner in Nassau County, Florida, and former lecturer at The Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, University College London.

VIEWPOINT

Holding up the bogeyman of the modernist architects of CIAM and their industrial age vernacular to deride scientific method and endorse normative theory in planning is a lot like suggesting a rape victim needs to date her attacker to get over the experience. While the metaphor may be shocking, it is not a casual choice.

Modernism was a normative theory. It was a theory that aspired to science in its assertions. However, Modernist theory fails even the most basic tests of being science. It was long on observation and way short on testing the theoretical conjectures arising from those observations. Without scientific method to test its conjectures, Modernism in its infancy never made the leap from normative to analytical theory. Instead, the subjective opinions of the CIAM architects and planners were embraced by several generations of professionals and put into practice in hundreds of cities. Today, for the most part, Modernist theory has finally been tested to destruction by our real world experience of its effects. It has made the transformation from normative to analytical theory and validated as a failure.

Modernism is the failure of normative theory. Ever since Robert Venturi published Learning from Las Vegas, it has been chic to assert that Modernism  – and, by implication, science – was responsible for the rape of our cities in the 20th century. However, like a DNA test that frees a falsely accused rapist, scientific method reveals the true culprit – normative theory. The 20th century is a wasteland littered with the remnants of normative theories: modernism, futurism, Post-modernism, Deconstructivism, traditionalism, neo-sub urbanism and many more ‘-isms’.  After the experience of the 20th century, it seems absurd to suggest that we require more theoretical conjecture without scientific validation, more opinion and subjective observation – that is, less science – if we want to better understand the organized complexity of our cities.

Science aspires to fact, not truth. The confusion about science is endemic to our society. You can witness it every time an atheist claims the non-existence of God based on scientific truth. However, science does not aspire to truth. Not only is ‘does God exist?’ unanswerable; it is a question no good scientist would ever seek to answer in scientific terms. It is a question of faith. The value judgment we place on scientific fact does not derive from science itself. It derives from the social, religious or cultural prism through which we view it. Right or wrong is the purview of politicians, philosophers and theologians. There are plenty – perhaps too many – planners and architects analogous to politicians, philosophers and theologians and not enough of the scientific variety. And, too often, those that aspire to science remain mired in the trap of normative theory.

The Modernist hangover lingers in our approach to theory. We require less subjective faith in our conjectures and more objective facts to test them. We persist with models that are colossal failures. When we are stuck in traffic, we feel like rats trapped in a maze. We apply the normative theory to how we model our transportation networks and fail to test the underlining conjecture. We project populations years and decades into the future, yet fail to return to them to test their validity, refine the statistical method and increase the accuracy of future projections. And we hide the scientific failings of our profession behind the mantra, ‘it’s the standard.’ The robust power of GIS to store and organize vast amounts of information into graphical databases is touted as transforming the planning profession. But those that don’t understand science, mistake a tool of scientific method for theory.

We require analytical theory and objective knowledge. If the facts do not support our conjectures, then they need to be discarded. In normative theory, ideas are precious. In analytical theory, they are disposable in favor of a better conjecture on the way to a scientific proof. Scientific method is the means to test and validate or dispose of theory. Our profession and communities have paid a terrible price for the deployment of Modernist theory in our cities. However, quantitative observation and analysis of its failings has offered enlightenment about how to proceed in the future. The work of notable researchers in Europe and the United States are leading the profession towards an analytical theory of the city. In the future, we will be able to deploy scientific method to derive better theory about the physical, social, economic and cultural attributes of the organized complexity of the city. The leap forward will propel planning out of the voodoo orbit of the social sciences and into the objective knowledge of true science. Until then, we need to focus a bit more on getting there and less time raising the specter of dead bogeymen in order to endorse the creation of a new one.

This editorial was written November 28, 2003 in response to a Viewpoint published in the December 2003 issue of the American Planning Association monthly, Planning, which derided science as a reasonable basis for sound planning and cited the experience of Modernism as a reason. This response was never published.

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The Editorial leftist Folio Weekly Was Too Afraid to Publish

Corporate Welfare Queens Bankroll Opposition to Amendment 4
The opposition to Amendment 4 is using taxpayer money to try and stop you from having a voice in the future of where you live, work and play: our neighborhoods and towns. They are trying to silence your voice about the future of Florida’s growth and development. Home builders and their vassals are principally responsible for bankrolling millions of dollars in opposition to Amendment 4. The only argument they have is fear because no one (not even the home builders) has the political courage to defend the morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt growth management process in the State of Florida over the last 30+ years. And the home builders are trying to scare you using your own money.

Do you want to talk about the audacity of audacity? Let’s follow the money.
At the beginning of this year, the Democratic Congress passed and President Obama signed into law an extension of unemployment benefits compensation. So far, so good: right? But the special interests in Washington DC successfully lobbied to insert something more into the bill: a tax loophole for the home building industry. The national home builders were able to claim losses over the last 2 years against federal taxes on their corporate profits during the previous 5 years. Basically, this means the federal government is using deficit spending (by borrowing mainly from China, Japan and the United Kingdom) to refund corporate taxes on national home builders’ profits during the boom years to compensate for their losses during the Great Recession. Of course, it will be left to this generation and future generations of unborn Americans to pay this debt.

Let’s be clear. This is a “backdoor” government bailout: nothing more, nothing less.
But wait, there’s more. After receiving their bailout, the national home builders report the tax refund as profit to Wall Street, thereby maintaining the value of their shares. Most home builder shares lost more than 80% of their value during the financial crisis, broadly dropping from $35-45 a share to around $10 or less a share. Even with this backdoor government bailout, home builder share prices had only remained stable more or less near their historic lows. So, not only is the federal government propping up the obsolete business models of the home building industry that planted the seeds of this Great Recession in the first place (especially in Florida, California and Nevada) and not only is it also the means to artificially inflate home builder share value on stock market to create another “bubble” but it isn’t even working all that well. To any common sense American, this is a waste of money on an almost unimaginable scale.

Oh, and the unemployed? At the same time the home builders are receiving billions of dollars in backdoor government bailouts, the federal government taxes as income the unemployment compensation payments for the unemployed. This is the anti-Robin Hood economics of the perverse. Steal from the future earnings of the poor to bailout the rich today. It is a house of cards waiting to fall all over again. And, once again, it will be left to the taxpayers to cover the bills.

In the early 90s, Welfare Reform was a major legislative achievement of President Clinton and Newt Gingrich’s Republican Congress. It rolled back one of the worst abuses of Johnson’s Great Society programs by getting people off the welfare rolls and back into the workplace. At its core was the idea there is dignity in being able to work and stand on your own without government assistance. Now, we have the new phenomenon of the Corporate Welfare Queens. The banks, auto industry and, now, the home builders are just some who have been caught red-handed sucking at the teat of the federal government. How are these Corporate Welfare Queens any different from the welfare queens President Reagan used to describe as both an abuser and victim of the system? Well, for one thing, we are talking about corporations that are too stubborn, too beholden to their quarterly profit reports to Wall Street, who possess obsolete business models they are too cowardly or dense to change in order to address the new economic realities. They would rather stick their fingers in their ears and hum really loud (and insert their heads with the fingers plugging their ears into the sand, for good measure) rather than adapt their business models and methods. Corporations like this should be allowed to perish in a capitalist society. The innovators will survive and thrive. The dinosaurs will finally become extinct, as they should. Instead, the federal government is using corporate welfare to pervert the marketplace and these obsolete industries are as happy as pigs at the trough. Today, what we clearly need is Corporate Welfare Reform.

So what does this have to do with Amendment 4? The home building industry has bankrolled 40% of the funds raised to oppose Amendment 4. The rest of the funds raised to oppose Amendment 4 largely come from businesses/organizations providing support services – and receiving income – from the home builders. Amendment 4 is a ballot initiative designed to give voters a say on major changes to their community’s future land use map; specifically, how our neighborhoods and towns in Florida will grow in the future. They want to deny you a voice in your future.

Many voters are old enough to remember the Watergate adage, “follow the money.” If you do, it’s easy to see they are using your money to tell you to shut up. But this is our Florida. They may have more money (even if a part of it was stolen from you) but there are more of us. Nothing can stop the power of The People when they decide to act (see the Revolutionary War against King George and the British Empire for a relevant example). Let your voices be heard loud and clear this November 2nd. Vote YES on Amendment 4.

Tea, anyone?

Mark David Major, AICP is a certified planner of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a former planner for a national home builder and former Chair of the First Coast Section, Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association from 2005-2008.

This editorial was originally written October 26, 2010 and submitted to Folio Weekly for their back page editorial. It was never published and Amendment 4 was defeated by 67% of the vote in the November 2010 election. The scare tactics employed by the home builders, government officials, and real estate and planning professionals to defeat Amendment 4 was instrumental in driving up vote turnout and electing the current unpopular Republican Governor of Florida, Rick Scott. Today, the Florida real estate market remains vastly overbuilt with inventory on life-support. You reap what you sow. Don’t believe the bizarre rants and maniacal claims of real estate agents about a “hot” real estate market. They are lying to you.

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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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For Florida Hometown Democracy

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a guest editorial in support of Florida Hometown Democracy originally published in October 2010 on the online magazine, Metro Jacksonville.

EDITORIAL: VOTE YES ON AMENDMENT 4
by Mark David Major, AICP

Voting Yes for Amendment 4 this November 2nd is a vote for a better, smarter Florida. Our real estate and development industry is a dinosaur; equally dull in its collective wisdom and just as extinct. Over the last 25+ years, our real estate development industry has been driven by one arrogant and fatal assumption: this is what makes us the most money, therefore, this is what the people really want. It’s akin to offering a man dying of thirst in the desert a shot of bourbon to forget his troubles (“oh, and here’s a Golden Calf to help you pray for help”). The dying man wants… needs water. But the profit margins on bourbon and golden calves meet the quarterly profit projections of Wall Street. Now Amendment 4 comes before the voters this November 2nd to offer water in the desert. Predictably, the entrenched, moneyed interests in Tallahassee and town halls across the state have risen in opposition to Amendment 4. In the wilderness of the desert, they proclaim, “Don’t drink the water! Water has a 100% mortality rate! Anybody who has ever tasted water has died!” But the voters know better. Amendment 4 proposes to make amendments to local comprehensive plans subject to voter approval. And this will lead to real change in how Florida develops and grows, for better and smarter development, in the future. Once the inevitable economic recovery appears, our real estate and development businesses will still make money (a lot of money, in fact). But the “this is the way we’ve always done it” business models they have relied for the last 25+ years will have to adapt when the voters approve Amendment 4 this November 2nd. Americans are optimists. We believe a vote can change our world. In 2006 and 2008, we voted to change direction after the Republican Party betrayed its core principles. Now, in 2010, we are once again preparing to vote for unprecedented change after the disappointment of the last 2 years. The media pundits and talking heads are pontificating about “the angry voter”, as represented by the enthusiasm of the Tea Party movement. But people don’t get angry and enthusiastically go out to vote unless they are optimists. The optimist votes because we still believe our vote matters and we can change things for the better. We stubbornly cling to our optimism despite being bombarded by the ‘conventional wisdom’ of cynics who prey on the fear we can never change a corrupt system dominated by moneyed interests, lobbyists and entitled self-serving incumbents (of both parties). I urge you to exercise your optimism by voting Yes on Amendment 4 this November 2nd for a better and smarter Florida.

Mark Major, AICP was the Chair of the First Coast Section, Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association from 2005-2008.

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For Amendment 4

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an opinion piece written in support of Amendment 4 and published in the September 10-16 issue of the Jacksonville Business Journal. The opposing opinion piece against Amendment 4 was written by The Honorable John Peyton, Mayor of the City of Jacksonville, Florida.

Why are You for Amendment 4?
by Mark David Major, AICP

The way we have planned and managed growth in Florida since the adoption of the 1985 Growth Management Act has failed. It has led to an unsustainable, energy-inefficient, suburban sprawl nightmare built on over-inflated property values. It has led to our real estate market being Ground Zero for a global recession. It has led to widespread unemployment, massive home devaluation, and record levels of foreclosures and bankruptcies. It has led to the worst economic downturn in our country since the Great Depression. Approval of Amendment 4 is an opportunity to change the dynamics of how we grow in Florida for the better and to make smarter decisions about growth in the future.

Why do you think the arguments that opponents have to the Amendment regarding unintended consequences are false?

Florida Hometown Democracy was never going to achieve what its supporters originally intended; namely, to stop growth. However, the arguments that opponents of Amendment 4 make about unintended consequences are disingenuous because what they really mean is they will have change the way they do business. But it is ‘business as usual’ that is the problem. Approval of Amendment 4 will lead to businesses making better and smarter decisions about what land is best to develop rather than what is the cheapest land to purchase. The most crucial calculations about a development are made long before it enters the regulatory process and approval of Amendment 4 will alter those calculations.

How do you think growth will evolve after the amendment?

Approval of Amendment 4 will promote the potential of already-entitled urban land, in-fill development, and reclamation of brownfield properties. It will also benefit traditional urban cores like Downtown Jacksonville. It will place greater demand on the design skills of planners, architects, and urban designers because property owners and developers will want to maximize profit in the horizontal and vertical dimension of their projects. Over time, this will lead to development patterns that make public transit alternatives (such a trolleys and rail) more economically viable for cities like Jacksonville.

What would its failure mean?

Failure to approve Amendment 4 will mean more of the same. Our real estate market, our properties, and our homes will remain trapped in a cycle of ‘boom and bust’. More importantly, the solution opponents of Amendment 4 are offering is ‘more of the same’. They are poised, even eager, to make the same mistakes all over again because that is “how we’ve always done it”. But ‘more of the same’ is not a solution. Voting YES for Amendment 4 this November 2nd is a step in the right direction for a better Florida.

Mark David Major, AICP is the immediate past chair of the First Coast Section of the Florida Chapter of the American Planning Association.

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