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 + 2012 classes as well -- their entries are worth reading.) Thank you. -- Scott Campbell

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


The question, “Should we plan?” is complex and not deserving of a Boolean answer.  The question in the most literal and broad sense is obvious: planning as a whole is a MUST. It will not be possible to even approach an equal or sustainable society without planning.  The more relevant question that we should continue to ask ourselves is “How should we plan?”

Should our efforts focus on efficiently designing vast single family residential districts like the one above, to accommodate the market, along with complimentary business parks and shopping centers? Should we plan for the growing single family house size and work toward higher efficiency of the interstate system? Clearly, we cannot continue on this path if we want to move toward sustainability and social justice.  We must not act as municipal engineers to dig society closer toward our demise.  What are the alternatives to this growth pattern and how do we utilize planning to facilitate change? 

-Elizabeth Treutel

photo source: http://pavelpodolyak.blogspot.com

This Next American City article by Neeraj Mehta explores issues of equity in creative placemaking, asking the question: who is this for? Who benefits? To me, this sort of tangentially asks what is the point of intervening?

source:  openmarket.org.   Photo accompanying an article, “The Dangerous Minds of Urban Planners.”

from the Supreme Court Majority Ruling:

Just as we decline to second-guess the City’s considered judgments about the efficacy of its development plan, we also decline to second-guess the City’s determinations as to what lands it needs to acquire in order to effectuate the project. “It is not for the courts to oversee the choice of the boundary line nor to sit in review on the size of a particular project area. Once the question of the public purpose has been decided, the amount and character of land to be taken for the project and the need for a particular tract to complete the integrated plan rests in the discretion of the legislative branch.” Berman, 348 U. S., at 35-36.

     In affirming the City’s authority to take petitioners’ properties, we do not minimize the hardship that condemnations may entail, notwithstanding the payment of just compensation.21 We emphasize that nothing in our opinion precludes any State from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power. Indeed, many States already impose “public use” requirements that are stricter than the federal baseline. Some of these requirements have been established as a matter of state constitutional law,22 while others are expressed in state eminent domain statutes that carefully limit the grounds upon which takings may be exercised.  As the submissions of the parties and their amici make clear, the necessity and wisdom of using eminent domain to promote economic development are certainly matters of legitimate public debate.  This Court’s authority, however, extends only to determining whether the City’s proposed condemnations are for a “public use” within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Because over a century of our case law interpreting that provision dictates an affirmative answer to that question, we may not grant petitioners the relief that they seek.

     The judgment of the Supreme Court of Connecticut is affirmed.”

source:   KELO et al. v. CITY OF NEW LONDON et al.
certiorari to the supreme court of connecticut
No. 04-108.Argued February 22, 2005—Decided June 23, 2005 [link]

"Planning policy has proven to be one of the most resilient pillars of the post-war command-and-control state. Created in 1947 with the first Town and Country Planning Act, the basic features of the act remain unchanged: rights to develop separated from right of use; a politicised approach to decision making; an all-or-nothing approach that fails to compensate, or incentivize, third parties; the blanket protection of large swathes of undifferentiated land; and an unswerving faith in the ability of a bureaucratic planning process to achieve superior outcomes to those achieved in the spontaneous order resulting from voluntary action."

 Tom Papworth, “Planning in a free society:  London as a case study for a spontaneously planned future.”   Adam Smith Institute - The free-market thinktank (London)  link.

"Technology, under all circumstances, leads to planning; in its higher manifestations it may put the problems and associated cost of planning beyond the resources of the industrial firm. Technological compulsions, not ideology or political wile, will require the firm to seek the help and protection of the state. This is a consequence of advanced technology that is of no small interest."   

Galbraith, John Kenneth.  The Imperatives of Technology [from The New Industrial State].  reprinted in The Essential Galbraith. 2001.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, pp. 63-4.