Saturday, February 17, 2007

Buzz Words In Planning - Part 1

Some of you may be aware that I am employed as an Urban Planner. I've always had an interest in the interaction between people and the 'built form' (buildings, roads, parks, etc). For the most part, I enjoy the Planning field. But over the past ten years, Planning has been overwhelmed by buzz words. Neo-traditional. New Urbanism. Smart Growth. Sustainable Development. Healthy Communities.

New words and phrases are added every year, usually in response to some form of so-called market failure, negative or adverse situation or something that some expert declares as 'bad' or 'evil'. It seems that by creating a buzzword, the problem will disappear. Reality speaks otherwise.

One of the growing areas of concerns among many planners is urban sprawl. The so-called 'paving over' of agricultural land. The planning profession views urban sprawl as bad. Urban sprawl is too blame for the congestion on our roads. Urban sprawl is too blame for people getting fat. Urban sprawl is too blame for pollution. Urban sprawl can be blamed for just about anything that is negative.

The typical planning response to urban sprawl is more restrictive legislation, usually in the form of restrictions and/or prohibitions on agricultural land. On paper, this type of legislation looks good. Since farmers cannot subdivide their land, urban sprawl is stopped dead in it's tracks. Great. Well, not really. By restricting the amount of available land, you are creating a scare resource. That means an increase in the value (and price) of land. Which means that housing costs will increase. You just shot affordability out of the water. Nice one.