Justifications for and against urban planning

Urban Planning 540 (U. Of Michigan) blog: Use this location to post examples of arguments for and against planning. Scan through newspapers, magazines, journal articles, books, blogs, etc. to find language (both scholarly and populist, journalistic and individual) that reveals the ways that urban planning and related activities are either supported or vilified. Post links to original sources where appropriate and/or citations. (NOTE: I have included posts from the 2011-2013 classes as well -- their entries are worth reading.) Thank you. -- Scott Campbell

I am always thinking of myself as an observer rather than urban planner. Plenty of cases set me considering the relationship between urban planner and the city which is being planned.

In China, city planning, especially in provincial capitals, there is a general tendency that governments or developers invite well-known planners nationwide even worldwide instead of local planner to work out.In my hometown Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, there was a heartbreaking case established by a national authoritative planning agency when planning Zhengyifang area.

For local Kunming people, historic buildings in Zhengyifang area were symbols of Kunming spirit, leisure lifestyle and traditional manufacture. Whereas, the authoritative planning agency took all the old buildings down, instead, a brand new modern shopping mall went up. Zhengyifang area is now much less attractive to locals. Those planners had wide range of planning knowledge, they made this plan for “city beautiful”. However, they designed without feelings, in other words, they would not live in Kunming after making plans.

Thus, I am wondering if native planners could do a better job just because they appreciate their own cities. Or, should planner understand and love the city he or she is going to plan?



Photo Source: http://image.baidu.com/

By Xiao Li

“The future of the world is urban. Because of the rapid modernisation of countries such as Brazil, China, India and Turkey, we are seeing the largest rural-urban migration in history. How that urban development happens will lock-in behaviour for decades to come, so it needs to be sustainable. It is no exaggeration to say that the global race for sustainability will be won or lost in our cities.” - Forum for the Future, Megacities on the Move

Six solutions for sustainable urban mobility:

     1. Integrate, integrate, integrate

     2. Make the poor a priority

     3. Go beyond the car

     4. Switch on to IT networks

     5. ‘Refuel’ our vehicles

     6. Change people’s behaviour

Four possible visions of urban mobility in the world of 2040:


See the full Megacities on the Move report here: http://www.forumforthefuture.org/sites/default/files/project/downloads/megacitiesfullreport.pdf

-Jenya Abramovich

In reference to planning, Flathman says “we are free to abandon the concept but if we do so we simply have to wrestle with the problems under some other heading" (Utilitarianism’s Bad Breath?)  The concept of planning is not well understood partially because it is not well defined. City dwellers may find that problems in the city are more visible than any attempt to remedy them.  In fact, they may see planners as apart of the problem for high homeless rates, unaffordable housing, traffic, etc.  I offer this, a city is such a complicated place that even with planning commissions, some problems go unresolved.  What would the problems look like without planning?  What’s the alternative? Relying on the free market? We’ve seen how cities developed with little planning at the turn of the 20th century turned into tenement slums with outbreaks of diseases and little social mobility.  Under what heading were these problems without the basic concept of planning formed then? Planning has helped create higher standards for their resident’s quality of life (with a few failed exceptions).

I would define planners as the professionals who must work in the present providing the resources for everyone in the city, and planning for the future to ensure that continues, even if the city of future looks different than today’s.

Plan without implemented well = Not plan

This is my mother river— Guo River flowing through my hometown in Anhui Province. The local government made a river park plan to improve the city environment. However, the reality disappoints everyone. The developers cheated in the implement process by cutting down the budget. I want to say there are more questions besides whether to plan or not. 





Mengwei Sun

South Chicago Home Ownership Loan Corporation Redlining Map. 1939.

There is a “tremendous gap between planning’s potential and its performance” (Klosterman, 1996).

"The geographic location of where people live can affect their health, not just because of the unhealthy eating habits, but because they don’t have access to healthy food options. This is a growing issue for communities of color and something needs to be done" (Windmoeller, 2014)

"Leonard, 75, remembers people covering their cars with tarps to keep soot from nearby industries from pitting the paint… ‘There are no minimum requirements in Michigan for how far away from homes and schools industry must be’…’People drive by on I-75 and roll up their car windows right there because it stinks… They don’t realize there are whole neighborhoods down there’" (Lam, 2010)

Planning is important because the way our state and city officials have used planning driven by motives of racism and short-term goals in the past has resulted in long-lasting impacts on targeted communities. Planning needs to be used as a tool to reverse the negative impacts that planning has had on these communities, whether those impacts were intentional or not. There is a strong need to improve access to resources, increase job opportunities for unskilled and semiskilled workers, implement transit-oriented development, prevent displacement of residents during gentrification, and a huge need for a reform of our country’s transportation system.

~By Kale Mabin

Windmoeller, Michelle. 2014. Living in a Food Desert. Community Commons: http://www.communitycommons.org/2014/09/living-in-a-food-desert/

Lam, Tina. 2010. 48217: Life in Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code. Detroit Free Press: http://www.freep.com/article/20100620/NEWS05/6200555/48217-Life-Michigan-s-most-polluted-ZIP-code

"Cities have always offered anonymity, variety, and conjunction, qualities best basked in by walking: one does not have to go into the bakery or the fortune-teller’s, only to know that one might. A city always contains more than any inhabitant can know, and a great city always makes the unknown and the possible spurs to the imagination" 
Rebecca Solnit, author of Wanderlust: A History of Walking

This quote by Rebecca Solnit helps define why we need planning today, especially in cities. Well planned cities offer the highest ability of human choice and excitement for the masses, while still giving the option of seclusion and anonymity. Urban planning and the well planned city creates a buzz that cannot be felt anywhere else in the world, humanity needs the city to fuel its curiosity and willingness to explore itself and others. 

-Jordan Evan Greenman

Although urban planning is often criticized for impeding entrepreneurial initiatives and innovation, itself could be innovative and creative. The creative ideas and initiatives imagined by urban planners, who are generally educated with the idea of serving a larger public interests, however, in general (if not under the oppression of capital) are leading our society to a better end than thoses spurred by economic agents aiming for individual profits or utilities. For example, the BRT system first devised by Jaime Lerner in Curitiba, probably, could never be devised by a free market  economic agent.


Many criticism towards urban planning, such as merely representing the interests of those in power, should not be blamed on planners as they are in reality also victims of the established economic and policty system. Moreover, these criticism should not serve as the justification for against urban planning. Instead, urban planners should gain more recognition and support from the public and should be provided a better planning environment. With less stressful working experiences and deserved recognition, urban planners could be as creative as musicians, composing songs of the city just as Jaime Lerner did for Curitiba.

—Xiang Yan

The tension surrounding public interest, specifically determining public interest, lays at the heart of the question: should we plan? Hayek and his following argue that the individual is the most capable of determining his or her own best interest and that this decentralized process, rather than central planning, provides for the most efficient means of production.[1] While this argument is (surprisingly) compelling, and renders public planning obsolete, it rests on assumptions that are generally unreliable. He assumes individuals have all necessary information related to their choices and that individuals make rational decisions. History has demonstrated that neither assumption is true.[2] However, on the other end of the spectrum, “traditional planners,” as the Fainsteins note, believe that they are the elite, capable of determining public interest and, essentially, making decisions for the masses.[3] Where Hayek perhaps puts too much faith in an individual’s rationality, traditional planners seem to have too much faith in their own superiority. Hayek’s criticisms of central planning ring true when we view certain results of traditional planning, namely infamous urban renewal projects like Pruitt Igoe and Cabrini Green. So, how can we, as individuals, decipher what is “best” for ourselves if both parties described cannot determine the solution. Perhaps this is where planners can step in. We need to plan, and we need planners, to fill the void left by Hayek and traditional planners, to facilitate an understanding of individuals (and the “public’s”) interests and, for that matter, choices.

- Alexandra Markiewicz

[1] Hayek, Freidrich, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” American Economic Review, XXXV, No. 4; September (1945): 519-30.

[2] This seems like an absurd statement to make without reference to specific examples, but, at the same time, it seems obvious.

[3] Fainstein, Susan S. and Norman Fainstein, “City Planning and Political Values: An Updated View,” in Readings in Planning Theory, First Edition, ed. Scott Campbell and Susan S. Fainstein (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1996), 266-8.

The Use and Value of Urban Planning

"Urban planning is not an exact science. We are all still learning in all parts of the world. Nobody possesses a complete methodology which is "fail proof," so we have to learn, we have to face our own failures, acknowledge them and learn from them, and eventually we would be able to demonstrate that urban planning really adds something to a city and makes a city more efficient." Alain Bertaud


Mitchell Silver talks about changing the “P” from process back to planning and discusses the idea that no action is an action. He emphasizes a need to plan for future trends of all generations, older generations must give some of their today for our tomorrow. Video gets underway at 7 minutes.
-Adam K

Federal housing programs distort markets in ways that undermine neighborhoods, they encourage dependency, and they do not create incentives for long-term maintenance and improvements. They also rest on the false premise that the private sector cannot provide housing for those of modest means.” - Howard Husock, “Public Housing and Rental Subsidies.”  CATO Institute (Downsizing the Federal Government project).  

"…some planning is better than no planning. There are perhaps two common misconceptions about urban planning: (i) it is a costly exercise that takes a very long time to complete; and (ii) a plan is a rigid, inflexible regulatory document that does not respond to on-the-ground needs and changes.”  CHYI-YUN HUANG, “Is Urban Planning Necessary?"  World Bank Blog, 06/25/2013

bloomberg businessweek sandy  Regardless of whether they believe it is anthropogenically caused or not, more and more leaders are finally admitting that climate change is real and that we are undoubtedly already feeling the impacts. What does this mean for planning? There is no doubt that as they stand, most cities are unprepared for many of the current and anticipated changes our globe is expected to endure over the next century. This past week made that fact VERY clear. However, will this known issue translate into stronger city planning efforts? Efforts that may help us reduce the power outages we face? The transportation disruptions we must deal with? The flooding? Or will planning efforts carry on as usual with efforts toward “sustainability” and “greeness” sprinkled here and there but no actual strides taken towards the major adaptation and mitigation efforts that we truly need? If we do the math - yes, it is expensive to “plan” for uncertain future catastrophes, but those efforts are typically nothing compared to the financial havoc  major storms, droughts, and other impacts can cause.  We know we need to plan and it makes financial sense (in the long run). So why don’t we do it? Will Sandy change that? 

An interesting huffington post article about how lack of planning worsened the power outages on the east coast: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/01/hurricane-sandy-utility-outages_n_2053120.html

-Ashlee Jensen

Credits: Image linked to source.

Work by Liquid Planning Detroit (Marie Arquero, Jen Maigret, and Nicole Scholtz) reveals how the intersection of land use and water can inform planning decisions. Their research deals specifically with the Brightmoor area and Dequinder Cut. The timing is important, because the Detroit Works Project is currently developing a master plan for the city. As a region, water is one of our greatest resources, but it is also a major infrastructural and economic hurdle for the city. It’s interesting to note that watershed boundaries, like other natural features, have no regard for political boundaries. Are planners limited by government boundaries? Should governments be more willing to collaborate? I think Liquid Planning makes a strong case for planning. Given the crisis state we find ourselves in, regional climate and natural geographies should play a larger role in planning. We cannot plan parcel by parcel, we must widen our lens. 

Credits: Image linked to source.

- Alexandria Stankovich