Sunday, September 10, 2006

“Big plans” … on China’s Yangtze …

[Global Sunday]

   “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood ….  Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.”  This is, of course, the advice of the great architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham (1846-1912).  One often hears the first part of the quotation, but less often the conclusion about a “noble, logical” work’s not dying.  Modern land use plans are too often about big ideas –- and the judgment of whether they are noble or logical is hotly debated.
   This week I write about a few such big plans.  First, PBS is broadcasting a documentary called “Great Wall Across the Yangtze” about China’s colossal Three Gorges Dams, focusing on the enormous environmental, cultural, and social tolls that the dam project is taking.  Such costs are hard to imagine in a republican democracy, where concentrated costs are fought tenaciously, regardless of the diffuse benefits.   It is essential to consider the harms, of course, but it is also important to remember that floods in China have killed more people across history than any other type of disaster in any nation.  Control of such floods is one of reasons for the dam system; Daniel Burnham would undoubtedly have been pleased.

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