Andres Duany Criticizes Combersome Planning Process

New Urbanist planner and architect Andres Duany has taken aim at the contemporary U.S. planning process, arguing that its openness prevents innovative projects from getting approved. Talking to journalists at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, reports:

“It’s so out of control,” said Duany, referring to the current state of public participation in planning decisions in the United States. “It’s an absolute orgy of public process… basically, we can’t get anything done.”

Charrettes — intensive design meetings where planners and architects work alongside the public to educate them on the city’s proposals and coax out their own ideas on how their cities should be formed — have been a mainstay of Duany’s practice for years, so he’s no stranger to public engagement. But now he is saying what many involved in land use have come to believe but can’t really say — that the process of soliciting the public’s opinion has gotten out of hand and needs to be reformed.

The central problem, according to Duany, is that the immediate neighbors to a proposed development are brought in to speak on behalf of the whole community. These neighbors obviously have a vested interest in what happens in their backyard, and an emotional connection to their space. They also often have a financial stake in what happens, with their life’s savings tied up in their home. “We’ve tainted the process by not understanding that the neighbors are a special interest,” says Duany. “They are not the community.”

I couldn’t agree more.

My solution, however, is a bit different than Duany’s. Duany wants to convene a panel of citizens that would become expert on the project and work with planners and architects to provide public input before approval.

I believe we don’t need a process that complicated. Rather, we should limit standing in public meetings to those people that can demonstrate impact, and impact mitigation should only occur if the effect is measurable and negative. Otherwise, plans should be administratively approved. This is part of market-oriented planning, and I’ve discussed these ideas in various places including an article in the special issue of the Journal of Urban Planning and Development on housing innovation.