Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rybczynski doubts centralized city planning

Witold Rybczynski--Slate's architecture critic, U. Penn. professor, and author of several wonderful and accessible books on design and the built environment in America--has a short but compelling article called Don't Plan on it: Centralized City Planning is not the Answer to the Problems Facing America's Cities.  Some highlights:

According to [Obama urban czar Adolofo] 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. . . . Urban renewal destroyed rather than repaired inner-city neighborhoods, expressways promoted urban blight, and the projects proved environmentally and socially dysfunctional.

The forces shaping our cities today are not municipal agencies but private organizations such as park conservancies, downtown associations, historic-preservation societies, arts councils, advocacy groups, and urban universities. Entrepreneurship also plays an important role. In projects large and small, real estate developers have replaced city planners and bureaucrats as the chief players on the urban scene, restoring neighborhoods, attracting residents to downtowns, helping to create the amenities that keep them there.

The important lesson is not that city planning is unimportant but, rather, that urban development should not be implemented by the public sector alone and that in a democracy, a vision of the future city will best emerge from the marketplace. (That it may turn out to be a messy vision, lacking a grand aesthetic, Jane Jacobs long ago acknowledged.)

The simple truth is that successful city-building is less about big moves and more about perseverance and day-to-day management. . . . 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.

Matt Festa

Architecture, Local Government, Planning | Permalink

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Matt - Very interesting. The article we're writing for Seattle actually discusses some of these themes, from an environmental justice perspective. I'll blog about it once we get the draft done.

Posted by: Jamie Baker Roskie | Apr 9, 2010 6:09:10 AM