What’s Missing from City Plans? Everything That Matters, Says Economist

Written by  //  May 16, 2013  //  Posts  //  No comments

carl

At the upcoming Canadian Institute of Planners conference in Vancouver I will be hosting a workshop with two colleagues, David Bell and Justin Barer, on the value that an understanding of land economics, market dynamics, and financial analysis can bring to the planning process. US economist Carl Schramm just published a great piece in Forbes on why municipal plans need to take the economy (and numbers in general) more seriously. I absolutely believe that as planners we need to complement our flowing language and beautiful imagery with hard numbers. Perhaps unknowingly,  urban planners are micro-scale economists, but were never required to take any economics classes in school (at least I didn’t!). We need to begin becoming more comfortable with numbers so that we can back up our professional opinions with facts and analysis. Well-meaning policy is nothing more than good intentions if the economics behind it are so unfeasible that the intended action never comes to fruition.

That said, I cannot agree with all of Carl’s points. A municipal plan is not the same as an economic plan, even if it should take into account economics. Further, here in Ontario, planning is definitely numbers oriented due to the growth targets set in the Places to Grow Act, and in the way the Ontario Municipal Board evaluates cases. Whether we are always focusing on the right numbers, however, is another matter.

Below is Planetizen’s opinion, and a link to the full article on Forbes.

In an op-ed for Forbes, economist Carl Schramm argues that “the practice of city planning has escaped reality.” He indicts planners, and the plans that cities produce, for ignoring the economic imperatives that constitute a successful city.

For Schramm, a so-called “evangelist of entrepreneurship“, an examination of unspecified “plans” for five unnamed “cities” by his unexplained “students” reveals the shameful truth about city plans: “Its highly stylized form, apparently reflective of a settled professional culture, is first and foremost a political document disguised as a physical plan for a specific locale.”

While Schramm may have a valid point in criticizing the inadequate analysis and integration of measures of economic success in some planning documents, his overly simplistic hyperbole does his argument no favors.

“If planning is to be helpful it must see cities first as the economic communities that they were at their beginning,” he says. While that may be worth debating, demonizing all planners as adherents to the notion that “the growth of government and its control over all aspects of the built environment [is] the pathway to the cities of tomorrow,” is certainly not the way to engage them in a productive dialogue.

Full Story: It’s Time For City Planners To Adapt A New Model

Published on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 in Forbes

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Reurbanist

Reurbanist is a multi-disciplinary firm that blends land use economics with urban planning and economic development. At its core, Reurbanist believes that great urban places that are compelling and vibrant must find success at both a fiscal and social level. Stronger cities and urban destinations translate into improved job growth, municipal tax revenue, and a higher quality of life for residents.

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