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Rybczynski: Central Planning Not Solution for America's Cities

Samuel Staley
April 1, 2010, 10:41am

Real estate expert Witold Rybczynski has an excellent, short, and pithy article on Slate.com on the White House Office of Urban Affairs and its plans to create more "livable" cities. In a breath of fresh air on the reality of contemporary planning in cities, Rybcznky writes:

"According to [urban policy czar] Carrión, smart planning involves a combination of walkable communities, mass transit, and bicycle paths, and who could argue with that, except that in the last 40 years, our faith in centralized city planning has changed radically. In short, we've lost it. The last binge of planning in the 1960s produced urban renewal, city expressways, and acres of housing projects from which many cities are still only partially recovered. Urban renewal destroyed rather than repaired inner-city neighborhoods, expressways promoted urban blight, and the projects proved environmentally and socially dysfunctional. The result was collective NIMBY-ism—no planning in my backyard, thank you."

and in a passage right out of Jane Jacobs:

"The simple truth is that successful city-building is less about big moves and more about perseverance and day-to-day management. In the present economic downturn—as tax revenues diminish and cities face fewer jobs, no new construction, fewer tourists, fewer conventions, and less state funding—older cities will struggle to repair and replace aging infrastructure, and new cities will be challenged to maintain their growth. Talk of economic stimulus packages raises the temptation to undertake large publicly planned projects again. This temptation should be resisted. The lessons of the last 50 years should not be forgotten. To rephrase that great city planner, Daniel H. Burnham, make no big plans, only many small ones."


Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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