John Livingston

City Planning is Not Settled Science

In any organization, but I believe especially in government, there is always a tension between “good intentions” and competence. We all want to live in a utopian world. We want to live a humanistic existence where there are no consequences to bad decisions. Responsibility and accountability are hidden behind political philosophical agendas that have almost no bases in a true morality or ethic. Decisions are made on emotion and feelings. There is never an “out brief” where we look back a try to figure out where we might have done better. We just keep moving forward making the same mistakes over and again.

Think of Y2K, Covid, the reallocation and redistribution of scarce resources into Great Society programs like Medicaid, SNAP, Public Education (remember no child left behind), and in our neighborhood planned developments with dense housing programs many of them subsidized by local, state and Federal government incentives that are cookie cutter templates and one size fits all. Totalitarian command and control economic solutions almost always fail because unlike programs that must compete in a competitive marketplace, the incentive to adjust and change strategy almost always occurs too late and after great damage has been done to both buyers and sellers. Think of socialistic programs where grain rotted in silos in the Soviet Union, while people froze to death in cities because of a lack of housing. Think about what happened in India when Imperial British Rule via the East India Company and The Bank of Briton failed when trying to implement agricultural practices that worked in Western Europe but failed in Asia and the Far East. Think what minimum wage laws, rent and price and housing controls have done to inner city housing over the past 60 years in our country.

The father of modern-day urban planning was John Freidman. He is revered in departments of urban planning across our country. His modern-day humanistic philosophy was centered around “social justice”. They are very different from Biblical Justice or theories of Entitlement “Equality”. He stated before his death in 2019 that they are grounded in Eastern mysticism and Chinese Marxist economic theories.

When we look back over the past 50 years at “urban development” in our country his ideas have been an abysmal failure. Look at Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, the two California “mega ghettos” Look at our inner cities in almost every State across the union. Look at how even now the Chinese economy is imploding because whole cities with buildings and concrete lay empty because of the mismatching of supply and demand. City planning outside the guiderails of the free market never works. The temptation of government subsidies and the political leverage of “patronage” are incentives for collusion between the private and public sectors that are hard for all sides to pass up.

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“Egalitarian utopias” don’t exist, and they have never existed. A standard of living is only realized by policies that encourage economic growth through free and unfettered markets. In the history of the world the places with the most disease, the most hunger, the most crime, and the least amount of upward mobility, have been in places where people are living in the closest proximity to each other. There are more rich people living in our big cities, but also far more poor people. And the poor are growing far faster than the rich. Upward mobility is best realized in “nodes” far removed from areas with dense housing, and mass transit hubs.

The theories of modern-day city planners have failed, yet politicians still seem enamored with their ideas and philosophies. One place where this is not so true is in Atlanta Georgia where certain parts of the city have been allowed to grow and mature “organically and naturally. One such area is around the Atlanta Athletic Club Gold Course. In the early 50’s the area was starting to decay and home prices dropped dramatically. With a recommitment to the “green area” of the club, the neighborhood grew and thrived, without government subsidies and without high rise dense living transportation nodes being part of the plan. The neighborhood is now one of the country’s most “egalitarian”, racially and culturally mixed neighborhoods. City planners and politicians would be well advised to look at the “free enterprise” models of neighborhood development across our country if they truly want to make the lives of their constituents and future generations living in their communities better.

Maintaining legacy properties and open space in the middle of urban sprawl is an insurance policy against all the bad city planning theories promulgated by the apostles of John Freidman.

How many times does an experiment have to fail before we start looking at solutions in “politic and Law” that have been successful?

Competence and “common sense” should always be the trump card that wins the trick. Feelings and emotions do not live in an empiric world.

As Milton Freidman wisely opined “The road to hell ( with transportation nodes, and access portals to the green belt through neighborhoods—jl.) is paved with good but misinformed intentions.”


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4 replies on “City Planning is Not Settled Science”

Good points. The wolf in Idaho is not native. Our wolf was Canus Lupus Irremotus. A medium sized wolf. The one they planted is the Canadian wolf Canus Lupus Occidentals which was the largest wolf on the North American Continent. Our government became concerned by a report that the Elk in Yellowstone were eating the Aspens along the rivers which they believed was causing erosion and there were not enough predators to cull the herds. Their solution was to use the endangered Species Act to bring back the Wolf, but the ESA did not allow plantation of a foreign species and the Rocky Mountain Wolf was extinct. To allow implantation they rewrote the ESA by changing the biological identification of the 26 wolf species identified into a single species, The Gray Wolf.
You are correct on urban development. Neither the Johnson “Great Society” program nor the “Smart Cities Plan” have done anything but worsen the inner city conditions which are destroying the liberal controlled cities country wide.
When Eastern Germany failed and tore down the Berlin wall the Wessi’s (Western Germans) complained about the Ossi’s (East German) lack of work ethic. This appears to be the American problem today. We need to enforce the law and drain the swamp in DC before AI (absolute ignorance escapes and contaminates the rest of the country.

Thank you for your comments. “Experts” without common sense and very little real-life experience or wisdom or discernment have caused a great deal of damage to many different societies throughout the ages—ours is no different except for the fact that many of the so called “experts” have never had any real-world achievements of their own!

John: Look in the mirror! You lack common sense (fail to proofread what you write). There is a history of your misspelling the name of famous economist, Milton Friedman, as Milton Freidman (on December 1, 2018, April 7, 2021, October 26, 2021, and July 17, 2022).

This time you also botched both the name and year of death for John Friedmann and wrote John Freidman and 2019. Go look up an article by Stan Paul at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs on June 13, 2017 titled John Friedmann, the ‘Father of Urban Planning,’ dies at 91.

Thank you, Richard, for your kind review and critique. I found the date of death in a newspaper article from the Bay area. I should have checked it. Thank goodness for spell check or you could really see how ingnorant I am.

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