Measure 37: Are Planners to Blame?

Another recent article from former Portland METRO director Richard Carson (see my previous post), this time opining on Oregon’s Measure 37, the initiative passed in 2004 that requires local governments to pay landowners if land use restrictions reduce the value of land, or waive the restrictions:

Certainly there is a lot of hand wringing and wailing by Oregon planners these days. But the one thing you won’t hear is anyone acknowledging that planning caused this revolt. Indeed, in typical response, the planning profession simply says, “The voters just didn’t understand. If only we could have explained it to them.” I have been a professional planner for over 25 years and I hear that refrain a lot. Why is it is never a failure on our part as planners to understand what citizens really want? Why is it always a failure on the citizens’ part to understand what a wonderful gift we are giving them? Do we not understand that we are guilty of the sin of pride and the ballot measure was the price of our prejudice? Why do we continue to believe that the voters aren’t capable of making intelligent decisions? As a professional planner of almost 30 years, I am ready to say “mea culpa.” But then I have written numerous essays that foreshadowed this day. I have railed against the sins of centralized planning, social engineering and faux citizen involvement. This is especially true about the grand Oregon “experiment” that in time became institutionalized into a monolithic and unresponsive planning bureaucracy.

Read the whole thing. As a planner, it is so refreshing to hear a voice like Carson’s because there are so few of them in the planning community-at-large. In 2003, columnist Charles Krauthammer famously identified a psychiatric disorder — Bush Derangement Syndrome — that currently afflicts so many on the left. He defined it as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency — nay — the very existence of George W. Bush.” From my experience in planning, I’d have to say that there’s a more subtle, but nonetheless pervasive, affliction among planners probably best termed Sprawl Derangement Syndrome. Having spent several years in SDS recovery, I think that I can offer a good stab at a definition: the acute onset of revulsion against current development patterns (and those that voluntarily choose them or otherwise perpetuate them), combined with delusions of grandeur that give one the false and hubristic impression that no policy proposal is too restrictive or damaging as a means to change said patterns. The Smart Growth movement is the logical outgrowth of SDS and also the dominant vehicle for mass SDS transmission into the future. Carson has a knack for tapping into the ‘delusional planner’ mentality, probably because he’s worked in the field for so long at such high levels that he’s seen it in all its varied forms. I’d highly recommend a read through his essays here for more insights along these lines.