Good planning causes poor economic development?!?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Good planning causes poor economic development?!?

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    mark foster

    I need your help. Our city (Louisville, KY pop 1 mil) has a new administration. One of their first transitional proposals is to “streamline” (read: gut) the planning process.

    Their premise is that the planning process is just too cumbersome for developers, and it hurts job growth and economic development (I am not making this up). So the solution is a kind of drive-thru window at the planning department, making sure the folks working there (I am not one of them, by the way) know their place and take the developer’s orders (“would you like fries with that up-zoning?”)

    What I need are examples and facts of U.S. cities of comparative size which proves that giving the wolf the chicken house is a bad thing–that communities can thrive economically with good and vigorous planning. Even one example or fact would be more than they have produced.


    Thank you!

    Jason T. Radice

    Working in an ‘overplanned’ area, I would agree. It has been proven that areas of Texas and California where planning has taken a back seat have had much higher investment and economic growth. Centralized government planning on many levels simply does not work. It goes against market forces and needs in the community. Just how often (and at what expense) are masterplans updated. In areas around here, the planning board has more say than the developer/client and makes the whole ordeal take way too long and is way too expensive. It very often stifles smaller (read LOCAL) investors from building in their own communities.

    mark foster

    Not interested in theory, just need some resources.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    There is a difference between gutting a process and gutting the actual regulations. A burdensome process serves no purpose simply by being burdensome. If good results are contingent on a complex process, so be it, but if regulations can be followed in an easier process there is no point. Your post only indicates a streamlined process rather than a drop in standards. You seem to imply a drop in standards, yet you have not said that is the case.

    Zoning and subdivision regulation only affect development in a community only if there is already a reason to develop it. Dropping regulation is going to mean more development only if it was the reason that stopped it from happening in the first place. Regulation is always a burden and never an incentive unless the alternative places for development are more of a burden.

    Clearly, less regulation makes development easier. The question is whether regulation adds enough burden to become stifling or not. Dropping standards only to have the same amount of development done in a crappier fashion is only a benefit to the developer and a negative impact on the community.

    The thing to look at for real evidence is where there are political borders that divide what is essentially the same community where one side is more restrictive than other to see the impacts. I know that there is a great deal of development just across the Massachusetts border into New Hampshire for example. Heck, you can see it between two different zoning districts in the same town.

    Zoning and subdivision regulation shapes much more than just job growth. Some that also deeply impact the economy in other ways.

    A clear example of that can be seen between suburbs around Boston such as Waltham and Weston. Waltham is full of commerce and dense housig while Weston has huge residential lots and property values with almost no places of business at all. There is a stark difference in demographics, density, and aesthetics as well. They are right next to each other, but are worlds apart. Look at Google Maps and mess around with street view. The good news for those in Weston is that they don’t have to go far to get out of town to work or buy something while their houses are worth a fortune. The good news for Waltham is that the businesses serve the population of two communities. There is so much at play here regarding zoning and subdivision regulation and impacts on the economy, not the least of which is what is going on in surrounding or nearby communities.


    “Good planning” is very subjective. I woud suggest that “good planning” would take into account economic development thus being impossible to cause poor economic development.

    Trace One

    It would seem the examples are too numerous to detail, Mark. One of my hometowns, the ‘unincorporated village’ of Mclean, Va., went from a lovely rural setting with large southern houses and pg hydrangea lined entrances to solid wall to wall ticky tacky townhomes with tape on their windows to represent glass dividers..Or, try driving anywhere in the burbs of Altanta – Alpharetta, for example, where a normal drive to get your child to the soccer game at the next subdivision over can actually take a couple of hours. Georgia has a drive through subdivision process – check all the boxes and you are approved. It’s traffic is absolutely unbelievable..And the water wars have already started, as I am sure you have read about..

    I would think your group would just look at the world around them, to see the effects of economic growth with lack of planning..

    I will try to find more specific articles or books on BAD PLANNING, OR NO PLANNING (Houston had no zoning code for years, still doesn’t..)I would think you might more successfully try to redirect their thought to postive ways to grow the economic base – bike lanes, good landscaping, are proven to bring in interest..

    It is a thorny problem, tho, and many things have been tried…Economic development zones, aquariums (all the rage for years, to bring in ‘customers’..)..

    Trace One

    also, it would seem that their job is not to look for ecomic growth but rather to look out for the common good..good air, safe streets, safe neighborhoods..clean water..good schools..

    I will look for concrete examples..

    Trace One

    I would download any lecture by Peter Calthorpe, you can even call him and invite him to speak, to get them to understand why we have planning – he was really articulate about New Orleans, after hurricane Katrina..lectures available through i-Tunes..

    and any history of planning book, actually – seems they need to be taught about Civics, as Sandra Day O’Conner is running around doing..

    And  for understanding where they are coming from, Frederick Hayek is a favorite of the libertarians..

    mark foster

    Thanks for the imput. Let me expand a bit to try to answer your questions (I always try to be succinct in this forum, and sometimes don’t fully explain).

    We live in an area much like Trace’s. We also have a planning process which is a vicious circle–risk averse developers build the same thing over and over and over. They justify this by the market results, but don’t acknowledge that people and businesses are buying the only thing offered.

    In addition to fighting development (the usual pitchfork and torch scenarios) our neighborhood group has tried to introduce alternatives. We have lost way more battles then we have won, but we have had our successes: We introduced Andres Duany and Randel Arendt (in person) to the community. We initiated dark-sky compliant lighting alternatives. We began the process of a rural corridor vernacular as an alternative to the urban street model. We campaigned for active naturalization of subdivision boarders to match corridors (instead of turf and trees). We set numerous precedents in neighborhood planning (too numerous to mention here).

    The market has born out these changes–new urbanist and conservation subdivisions, micro village commercial developments, context sensitive corridor planning are now a credible and economically successful alternative here–in fact they seem to be doing much better then the traditional cul de sac/strip commercial sites are. All this begun by ordinary citizens–not the planning, design, or development community or government.

    But here’s the concern. The present proposal (before our city) is to go back to the good ol’ days which means a lot of people will be frozen out until the very end of the process when the deal has already been done. And the only way I have seen “good planning” to work is to get the involvement of many minds at the beginning–not the end. My personal opinion is that we need a more rational and thoughtful process–not faster. Faster only limits options and transfers the risk from the developer to the existing land holders. So, I am looking for other models elsewhere to counter the tired old refrain that faster, or less, planning is better from an economic standpoint.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I don’t work in a million person population, but I do work in a metropolitan area (yes, Cape Cod has an official metropolitan urban area of 50k+). The most urban place is the village of Hyannis in the Town of Barnstable. There the planing process starts with either an informal or formal site plan review. It is a review and advice on meeting compliance with existing standards held with represetatives from the various town departments to not only assure compliance, but to assist on getting the project onto a track toward approval. What it is not, is a free for all to make up new standards or arbitrary restrictions for each and every project. Zoning hugely shapes what can go where.

    Some may argue that the standards are too strict or too weak, but not in the review process. There, they are what they are. The site plan review here is a mutually beneficial process that can definitely help a project move forward more quickly simply by getting everything on the table up front and resolved early.

    There are several zoning districts in in the village of Hyannis alone (a very small area) to really shape that. It is not so much a question of what you can do so much as where you can do it – and we are not talking abut great distances. That planning process for zoning and the development standards to apply is separate from the process of reviewing a delveloper’s project.

    It is unclear to me whether your complaint is actually that the process of project review is not good, or whether the process of designing standards to apply is not good. Your original post sounds like there is a change to project review, but your complaint seems more about the lack of developing regulations to apply to those reviews. Are they not two separate issues?

    mark foster

    If I understand your question, the main concern here is process, which would be project review.    If a project is within the current zoning, eveything is ministerial (sp), and pretty cut and dried–  fair enough.  

    But upzoning to a higher density (which is almost an automatic reflex when a developer seeks a new project) requires review, approval, and public notice.   Your Hyannis example is perfect. This is exactly what our process has been evolving toward in the recent past–early inclusive meetings to “get everyone on the same page”.

    Now, it appears to be a return to the old ways:  Developer and planning dept. meet repeatedly over a few weeks/months to develop the project for review.  Public/stakeholder participation is limited near to, or at, the last public meeting at the end of the process, right before the vote.  By then, the only things that are under consideration are pretty token–building color, plant types etc..

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    The Hyannis example does not involve public input until the actual permit hearings. The early meetings are with staff such as town engineer, planner, water department, health department, and growth management staff.

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