Planning Naked | March 2016

Planning 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 regulare feature of observations and comments about a recent issue of Planning: The Magazine of the American Planning Association.

Share the knowledge!

A Reckoning is Upon Us | The Populist Movement in America

A Reckoning is Upon Us | The Populist Movement in America
An Op-Ed by The Outlaw Urbanist

Something is happening in America…

Many people do not understand it. Some people fear it. Other people recognize it as something long overdue.

Populism has washed ashore in America with a terrible thunder…

The Establishment brought this upon themselves. By ‘the establishment’, we generally mean the media, political, and moneyed-interest class principally, but not exclusively, located in New York, Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles. This is the real us vs. them dynamic in play in this election since political affiliation, race, gender, age or any other way ‘them’ attempt to divide (and conquer) ‘us’ is irrelevant.

The Establishment has faced a successive wave of ‘change’ elections: Republicans lost control of the U.S. Congress in 2006; Republicans lost control of the White House in 2008; Democrats lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2010; President Obama was re-elected in 2012 even as Republicans dramatically increased control of the U.S. Congress and states governorships/legislatures from 2010-2014; and, Democrats lost control of the U.S. Senate in 2014.

The American people are speaking loud and clear: the medium is the message.

And yet, the Establishment still refuses to listen. Yes, the American people are angry. I understand the anger. Too often, I have watched people – lacking in common sense but blessed with an abundance of money, influence, and willful ignorance – change the rules in their own petty self-interests at the expense of others who worked hard and deserved to rise in a functional meritocracy.

It is true there have always been ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in the capitalism of the American republic. This is accepted as a given. However, the bailouts of the 2008 Financial Crisis lay bare to the American people just how far  incomes and opportunities (or even their simple consideration) have fallen behind the coastal oligarchs. The ‘opium drip’ of Qualitative Easing and zero interest rates to prop up the banks and real estate/financial markets over the last seven years has not allowed the pulling back of the curtain in 2008 to recede into a forgotten past. They have enriched themselves beyond all measure while we continue to struggle day-to-day to find jobs, feed ourselves, and pay our bills (the proverbial “income inequality”). In particular, Black Americans (especially urban youth) have paid a terrible, unfair price for this status quo, which should be viewed as a complete disgrace by any citizen possessing the tiniest measure of decency. The solution is not found in a barely disguised democratic socialism. Nor it is found in an unmasked laissez-faire capitalism. It can be found in a common sense republicanism; the historic source of American meritocracy when functioning properly.

This anger is feeding populist movements on the extreme left of the Democratic Party (“feel the Bern”) and the muddled right of the Republican Party (“win again”). The origins of both movements are tapped from the same vein whether expressed in the Occupy Wall Street or Tea Party protests of the not-so-distant past. These movements are natural allies, both sides of the same coin, and supporters of each should avoid the all-too-obvious efforts of the Establishment (for example, George Soros and to pit either side against each other in a cage match designed to create a conflagration of mutual-consumption. It is an insidious effort to re-assert the bought privileges of a select few by ensuring the election of Hillary Clinton, who could not be a more potent symbol of the Establishment if she tried.

Common cause is what really scares the Establishment. They are coming to realize that many (not all) of Bernie Sanders’ supporters will cross over and vote for Donald J. Trump in the November election to defeat their ‘potent symbol’ as the youth vote in President Obama’s coalition sits this election out because their preferred messenger never had a realistic chance in the rigged Democratic primaries (all pay homage to the Super Delegates and biased media). They are coming to realize the ‘conventional wisdom’ of the electoral map will be utterly destroyed and re-drawn anew in the process. The silent majority of Americans – including many people such as myself who, out of frustration, now refuse to participate at all – watch in delighted glee as the Establishment (especially the media, be it of the FOX News, CNN or MSNBC variety) squirms in desperate discomfort to ignore, desperate attempt to blunt, and desperate wish to avoid the inevitable.

A reckoning is upon us and you better start listening or else the Establishment is “gonna wonder how (they) ever thought (they) could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

And if this isn’t the time? If not today, then tomorrow.

Share the knowledge!

The Dark Side of the City | BBC Culture

Interesting article on BBC Culture this morning about the depiction of urban loneliness in the paintings of Edward Hopper based on excerpts from The Lonely City, a new book by Olivia Laing.


“This is the thing about cities, the way that even indoors you’re always at the mercy of a stranger’s gaze. Wherever I went – pacing back and forth between the bed and couch; roaming into the kitchen to regard the abandoned boxes of ice cream in the freezer – I could be seen by the people who lived in the Arlington, the vast Queen Anne co-op that dominated the view, its 10 brick storeys lagged in scaffolding. At the same time, I could also play the watcher, Rear Window-style, peering in on dozens of people with whom I’d never exchange a word, all of them engrossed in the small intimacies of the day. Loading a dishwasher naked; tapping in on heels to cook the children’s supper.”

Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was a prominent American realist painter and printmaker (Source: Wikipedia). Born in 1882, Edward Hopper trained as an illustrator and devoted much of his early career to advertising and etchings. Influenced by the Ashcan School and taking up residence in New York City, Hopper began to paint the commonplaces of urban life with still, anonymous figures, and compositions that evoke a sense of loneliness. His famous works include House by the Railroad (1925), Automat (1927) and the iconic Nighthawks (1942). Hopper died in 1967 (Source:

Read the full article here: The dark side of the city | BBC Culture

Share the knowledge!