LAND-USE PLANNING, PERHAPS even more than politics, is a profession in which courses of action are proposed without consideration of potential negative outcomes. For example, many contemporary urban planners subscribe to such fads as "Smart Growth" and "New Urbanism," among others, and presume that a citizenry is best served by what is, in effect, social engineering rather than the spontaneous order of a free society.
Unfortunately, these new planning orthodoxies are as soundly based on careful reflection and consideration of all their possible consequences as urban renewal was when it began destroying neighborhoods and downtowns 50 years ago.
Planners seldom resist the urge of social engineering, which generally leads to a rush for implementation of the next quick fix. One problem with this approach, however, is that the plans implemented have never been tested before, which is no way to test planning theories. Unfortunately, the citizens subjected to these experiments are often not voluntary nor are the results predictable or satisfactory.
Local zoning ordinances should feature designs that are beneficial to their specific communities, rather than contain a set of rules that mandate untested theoretical standards. Additionally, we should remember that although it is easy to create and promulgate new ordinances — they will be enforced, good or bad, and it is vastly more difficult to extinguish unwanted rules and regulations than to create them.
From my personal experience, what members of my profession lack is humility and caution. Given the relative lack of success of land-use planners, we might take Calvin Coolidge's advice to the Massachusetts Senate in 1914: "Don't hesitate to be as revolutionary as science. Don't hesitate to be as reactionary as the multiplication table. Don't hurry to legislate. Give administration a chance to catch up with legislation."
Don Hamilton is chief planner for Lapham Associates, a Michigan firm engaged in engineering, planning and enviromental surveying.