Sunday, January 28, 2007

Seven reasons why government planning fails

Randal O'Toole of The Thoreau Institute recently started a new blog called The Antiplanner. It can be a bit extreme at times for my tastes, but it did have a few recent posts that give the best summary I've seen to-date on the inherent problems of planning and visioning - a recent area of debate in Houston. The first post starts with seven concise reasons government planning usually fails:
  1. The Data Problem: The amount of data needed to write a truly comprehensive plan is more than any planning agency can afford to collect. Even if collected, it is more than anyone, even with the help of computers, can comprehend.
  2. The Future Problem: Writing a long-range plan requires information about the future that is unknowable, such as future technologies, costs, and personal preferences.
  3. The Modeling Problem: All planning requires models, but before a model becomes complicated enough to be useful for comprehensive planning, it becomes too complicated for anyone to understand.
  4. The Pace of Change Problem: By the time planners collect all available data and go through the public process of writing a comprehensive plan, conditions have changed so much that the plan is obsolete.
  5. The Incentive Problem: Government planners who deal with other people’s resources, whether their land or their tax dollars, have no incentive to find the right answers because the costs of their mistakes will be imposed mostly on others.
  6. The Political Problem: Ultimately, the final decision in any government plan will be made through the political process, a process which is hardly rational.
  7. The Special Interest Problem: Any time you give a government agency the power to write plans for other people’s money and resources, you create incentives for special-interest groups to lobby in favor of plans that primarily benefit them. Such interest groups will not provide a balanced view; in particular, taxpayers will be underrepresented.
In a later post, he articulates problems with the visioning process that often goes along with planning:
In lieu of accurately predicting the future, planners use a technique they call visioning in which they ask people to imagine what they would like their city to look like in the future. They then try to plan for that city.

Visioning has numerous flaws. Most obviously, the people doing the visioning still have no special knowledge of the future. So it is most likely that their visions will really be based on a nostalgic view of the past.

Second, visioning results in a mandate for coercive planning. After all, if you can imagine the best possible future for your city, you would not want to risk that future to the uncertainties of the free market or people’s short-term preferences.

Finally, the people writing the vision do not represent all of the people who will live in that future. If they make mistakes, the cost of those mistakes will be shared with others, so they have little incentive to try to get it right.

For all these reasons, visioning is the wrong solution to planners’ inability to predict the future. Instead, in many cases, it just become one more excuse for planners to impose their own nostalgic ideas on their cities.
I'd add to that list that's easy to "vision" a utopia where everybody conforms to what you personally want, because a vision doesn't cost you anything or demand any tradeoffs. It lets you appropriate something from somebody else (like their property rights or taxes) for your personal benefit.

Finally, he dissects Denver's Metro Vision 2030 plan, and really exposes the flaws above in a real-world case. It's long enough that my excerpts can't do it justice, so I highly recommend reading the whole thing. Here are a few of the nuggets that jumped out at me:

Contrary to what some planners believe, increasing density increases rather than reduces congestion. Planners like to believe that people will drive less if everything is closer together, but the truth is that an X percent increase in density results in less than an X percent decline in per capita driving (so car trips per sq.mile, and thus congestion, still increase substantially). Even the latest in rapid transit and pedestrian-friendly design cannot help. DRCOG predicts elsewhere that its plan will increase congestion (measured in hours of delay) by 73 percent by 2025.

With added congestion comes more air pollution because cars pollute more in stop-and-go traffic. ...

The associated Metro Vision Regional Transportation Plan calls for spending $5.8 billion on regional road improvements (at least part of which will be privately funded) and $4.2 billion on rapid transit (all of which will be taxpayer subsidized). In other words, 42 percent of the region’s transportation capital funds will go for transit, even though DRCOG predicts that by 2025 transit will carry less than 3 percent of passenger travel (see p. 24). Contrary to wishful thinking, blowing a lot of money on transit will not reduce congestion.

The Metro Vision plan imposes other costs on taxpayers. Many of the 70 high-density, mixed-use areas will require subsidies in the form of tax-increment financing (TIF). Some planners claim TIF is not a subsidy, but the new development it funds imposes costs on fire, police, and other urban services without providing any revenues to cover those costs.

...

Planners consider large yards to be destructive of open space, yet Americans regard large yards as some of the open spaces that they enjoy the most. Taking people’s yards away by mandating compact development effectively reduces the amount of open space people use on a daily basis.

Metro Vision 2030 imposes another hidden cost on residents: unaffordable housing. The emphasis on multifamily and compact development means there will be plenty of these types of housing, but the housing that most people want — single-family homes with a yard they can use for gardens, play, and entertainment — is already priced out of sight in parts of the Denver area. Coldwell Banker says that a house that costs $155,000 in Houston would cost $357,000 in Denver and $536,000 in Boulder. DRCOG’s Metro Vision plan will only make this worse.

In short, DRCOG’s plan calls for making most if not all of the major problems it identifies — congestion, air pollution, tax burdens, and open space — worse, not better. It will also impose high housing costs on the region. DRCOG is committing billions of dollars to subsidies for rapid transit, high-density housing, and infrastruction for infill. It is adding billions of dollars to the cost of housing.

Why does this happen? Because there is no scientific basis for regional planning. Instead (to quote a paper cited by Dan in response to a previous post), DRCOG relied on “visioning, scenario-building, and persuasive storytelling”.

In what sense can this planning be called “rational”? DRCOG is not planning for what people want — people don’t want congestion and high housing prices. It is not planning for any particular future needs — Colorado is not going to run out of open space any century soon. This planning is merely some people trying to impose their preferences on other people. That is not rational planning. It is authoritarian government. It is exactly what Americans are supposed to be against.

37 Comments:

At 7:06 PM, January 28, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

So I guess HCTRA should scrap their toll road plans?

 
At 7:38 PM, January 28, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Actually, drainage and transportation are two areas that do work pretty well with planning, because growth is pretty predictable. Also, govt is tasked with building that infrastructure anyway, so obviously they have to plan for it. Govt is *not* obligated to plan for land use.

 
At 8:04 PM, January 28, 2007, Blogger John said...

The post is a great example of how convincing unproven assertions can be.

Does government planning in fact usually fail? (What is the definition of failure?)

What size model cannot be understood?

What is the upper limit on data collection? How much data is enough? It's certainly not 100%, but given the certitude of the statement, I assume the writer has studied this problem and can compare the amount of data needed for good decision making vs the cost of collection.

This is pretty fluffy stuff.

 
At 9:23 PM, January 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The above post shows how convincing (to some) unfounded and non-specific skepticism can be. Plus, without going out on a limb and making assertions of your own, there's nothing for the rest of us to argue with.

Do you have an argument against the post from the AntiPlanner? Many of us would love to hear your ideas (and I'm not being sarcastic on this one).

Tory, I can actually imagine a hypothetical town where something like drainage could be handled on a semi-private level. If watershed sizes were small enough and the town were limited to a total maximum output of water into a river by let's say, the state, AND all of the land within this hypothetical town belonged to one developer, then it might be possible to for that developer to handle drainage without regs (except for the net max. output rule). In the real world though, you are right; some things are traditionally better handled by local government.

 
At 9:50 PM, January 28, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

So this is basically about zoning? From your post, it looked like it had something to do with transportation. Crossley has mentioned that his plan does not involve zoning. It seems like this is happening:

1) Crossley and a bunch of other people are talking about a plan for Houston.
2) All this talk about planning has made you worried that people are going to want zoning.
3) You start writing posts and newspaper articles attacking "planning," because you don't want zoning.
4) People like myself can't figure out what you mean by "planning," or why you're against it.

To tell you the truth, the things Crossley has said are hardly less vague... the statements he's made about his plan are so innocuous, almost nobody would be against them (i.e. figuring out spending for flood control), but then it's hard to see what could be different between what he's proposing and what we're doing already. The most obvious thing that could be different is zoning, but from time to time he reminds us, "planning doesn't mean zoning." Not that his plan doesn't entail, or won't eventually entail zoning, just that "planning doesn't mean zoning."

If anyone can explain what planning actually does mean, he will earn my gratitude.

 
At 7:39 AM, January 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think that's a very good question. It's a very vague concept. For the purposes of Randal's post, he means comprehensive urban planning, including full land use controls (of which zoning is a major part). I think parts of planning make sense (esp. infrastructure), and it always makes sense to ask "How can we get more of what we want, and less of what we don't want? (without harshly coercive controls - and realizing that "we" doesn't always describe everybody's preferences)" Honestly, it's a big gray area. We wrote the op-ed to try and "immunize" the city against the seductive lure of the more extreme forms of urban planning (a one-way slippery slope). We think Houston has a really good thing going here, and should error on the side of conservative/incremental changes rather than converting over wholesale to comprehensive urban planning and land use controls.

 
At 8:11 AM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...

I was one of those 1,000 or so Houstonians who showed up at that BluePrint Houston / Citizens Congress held a while back at the GRB convention center. After hearing the lady consultant who gave the keynote address which effectively gushered over Smart Growth ideas, I was lumped together (as we all were) into small groups and told to see what we would like for our areas. Then this was all supposed to be synthesized into "the plan".

I sat silently for most of the session while I watched a several people at my table go hog wild, planning over what the City should do about this area and that area. One guy for example derided Northwest Mall as a dead area, not knowing that the Mall is still quite active during the daytime. Another guy, an avid runner, complained bitterly about the lack of facilities for his hobby. I told him I've successfully navigated running for 25 years now through a bunch of Houston neighbhoods and that all of his plans were not needed. He looked at me as though I was from Mars. Several people were enthusiastic backers of having people walk and bike their way to work, not thinking that Houston gets pretty hot and humid for 5 months out of the year. Some people wanted to ban autos from certain areas and thought I was crazy for mentioning that merchants were dependant on automobile traffic for their business. Weren't we supposed to be coming up with ideas for making Houston a less auto dependent place, I was asked? Why? Because the world was running out of oil? Because poor people can't afford cars? I often wonder whether people underestimate human ingenuity when it comes to considering how other people deal with problems.

I did make a few simple, low cost, property rights friendly suggestions to make Houston a more pedestrian friendly place, such as putting up 1-3 foot tall barriers along sidewalks on busy streets (like Westheimer) which would form a barrier between people and auto traffic. One guy said this wasn't enough. He bought into the whole idea that sidewalks needed to be wide for lots of foot traffic.

I am writing this response from London and just got back from spending the weekend from Paris. I've walked the streets and have hordes of photos from both cities which I intend on posting in the next few weeks. All I can say is that much of the zeal for "new urbanism" planning in America right now seems to be essentially directed to forcing American urban areas to look like European cities, which themselves are mostly the product of free market development. Very little planning or guidance went into European cities until the end of the 19th century and it shows in how their inner urban area cores are laid out.

 
At 8:56 AM, January 29, 2007, Blogger David said...

The temptation is just to agree with john's characterization that the O'Toole stuff is pretty fluffy. But that would fail to note that it is also truly stupid, and that comment would fail to note that it is stupid like a fox, to mangle a cliche.

Let's remember that the purpose of O'Toole's rants is always to obscure any serious discussion and lead people off to wild defenses and analysis that help to produce in readers a feeling that there's real controversy here.

Planning is about starting out vague. No one who's doing planning is trying to predict some certain future. It just begins as an attempt to determine as well as possible where everybody wants to go, and then to try to be sure policies and programs don't obviously take us all in some other direction.

When an important engineer and the director of public works decide we need a $4 million study of drainage and transportation, they are doing that to arrive at - guess what? A plan. But when that plan is designed to figure out how best to drain the floodplain so hundreds of thousands of buildings can be put in it, and to widen hundreds of neighborhood streets to ensure more traffic in them, they are taking the city in a direction that most residents have said they don't want to go.

This kind of planning is precisely what Tory and O'Toole say they despise. The market (the citizens, in the case of a city) wants X and the "government" wants Y. Tory supports Y against X for reasons that are impossible to fathom (but ultimately have to do with the business of supporting land speculation against the market's desires).

On the other hand, Master Planned Communities, which I assume everybody thinks is the ideal embodiment of the market at work, begin with a vision of how people want to live and then thoroughly regulate a system to produce that. People then applaud and live in those places. There is absolutely no difference from the public concept of visioning and planning that I support. Master Planned Communities tend to cause far less damage than unplanned ones and obviously can be said to be market driven. I support market driven policies, as opposed to the kind of policies Tory is supporting, which use taxpayer funds to produce a type of development that causes the very harms citizens oppose.

In a nutshell, the current drive toward a general plan for the City of Houston says "Let's find out what people (the market) want to happen, and then do everything we can think of to make that happen." Period.

It's really important here to comprehend that O'Toole and Tory are setting up false assumptions about the topic, and then eagerly tearing them apart, to no gain for anyone except to continue to throw mud around in order to support the enormous development machine that is ultimately all about land speculation.

 
At 10:31 AM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous RedScare said...

So, government planning fails...oh, except for that government planning that Tory favors, drainage and transportation. Here's another absolute: I am always right...except for those times in which I am wrong.

 
At 10:53 AM, January 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

As I've said before, what people say they want in polls is not the "market", but what they actually do in practice and are willing to pay for. If citizens don't like the infrastructure investments made by their politicians, they're certainly welcome to elect new politicians.

Master planned developments are fine. It's obviously what some people want (and can afford), and, more importantly, it's purely voluntary whether you choose to live in one or not. Deed restrictions can achieve the same thing in the city. I have no problem if a neighborhood wants to collectively agree on a set of deed restrictions. On the other hand, regional infrastructure investments go through the political process, as they pretty much must.

And the "development machine" and "land speculation" you deride? That's people trying to provide other people *what they want* (i.e. the "market's desires") - and are willing to pay for - using nothing but their own private property and capital. That's the essence of a "free market" - people meeting the needs of other people in a mutually voluntary exchange.

 
At 10:57 AM, January 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Redscare: again, this is the problem with the vague terminology. When government is tasked with making certain infrastructure investments, "planning" of some sort is obviously required (even with its flaws). But government is not tasked with dictating land use, and it isn't the one making the capital investment in land use, so why plan for investments others are making?

 
At 11:11 AM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

On the other hand, Master Planned Communities, which I assume everybody thinks is the ideal embodiment of the market at work, begin with a vision of how people want to live and then thoroughly regulate a system to produce that.

Who said this? Tory has specifically said in past posts that he would *not* want the whole city to be like The Woodlands. You should be more careful about putting words in people's mouth, as you do several times in your post.

 
At 12:24 PM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous Brian S. said...

Pish-posh if you will, but the problems with developing long-term urban planning are starkly apparent. The current ideas of an ideal city ignore all kinds of future scenarios with high probabilities. What if?

1. Model assumes continually rising gas prices, but alternative fuels reach an economies of scale that keeps fuel at $2/gal permanently?

2. Model assumes a strong desire for singles and empty nesters to live in the urban core, but crime returns to the levels seen in the 1980's and scares everyone out of the core again.

3. Model assumes roadways will not be sufficient to fulfill demand, but telecommuting expands enough to diminish car commuting.

4. Model assumes large numbers of immigrants continues, but Dan Patrick types succeed and close the borders and dramatically reduce the need for housing in certain parts of the city.

Do I think any of these will actually happen? No, but that doesn't mean that they can't. If you walked around 4th Ward in the late 80's through the garbage littered lawns and streets, "Crips" and "Bloods" painted on every building and said, "We need to start building parks, minimum sidewalk regs, and revise the density rules to accomodate the thousands of yuppies who will move in over the next 20 years." Everyone would have laughed at you. We saw the dense apartment buildings and brownstones of the Northeast and cringed at the blight and all thought odd fashined city dwelling was a relic of the past.

Do I want density? Yes. Would I love it if we had bike trails, walkable street shops, great parks, and sleak mass transit? Yes, but I have no idea whether the city I want today is the city that I will want 20 years from now. To assume that you are amongst an elightened group that does is stupid like a fox.

 
At 12:40 PM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh boy... Tory, you're trying to "immunize" our city against so-called "extreme" forms of urban planning, like zoning: an approach so extreme that virtually every city in the nation has it?

What we already have presently in the City of Houston is an extreme approach to planning and a wildly extreme approach to land use control. Not to say that it's wrong - that's another debate - but that your use of the word "extreme" is 180-degrees wrong. You are in the position of defending an existing extreme approach, not immunizing against a hypothetical future one. This is where you're sliding down the one-way slippery slope!

 
At 3:41 PM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

brian s.,

Should we plan road projects longterm, the way that HCTRA, TxDOT, and H-GAC do? Because what if something happens and private vehicle transportation is no longer viable ten years from now? Not saying it will, but you never know.

 
At 4:22 PM, January 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> zoning: an approach so extreme that virtually every city in the nation has it?

Every country in the world used to have a king too, and then some people realized there were some flaws with that system, and came up with something better that spread pretty well around the world. But somebody had to go first...

 
At 5:27 PM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the monarchy comparison is weak at best. I could turn around and reply "...and somebody had to go last, such as Mauritania is the only country that still essentially allows slavery."

You need to realize that you are not trying to prevent an extreme approach; you are defending an extreme approach, one which has its benefits and its flaws, but nevertheless is a radical step outside of common practice. It is a real stretch for you to be characterizing everyone else as extreme, and it ultimately does not serve your position well.

In my opinion, you need to be acknowledging head-on what exactly you find wrong with planning, with zoning, and so forth without mischaracterizing it as extreme, or leading people to think that planning equals zoning.

Be precise, and avoid the sorts of mushy Randall O'Toole generalizations like what was posted - just because we don't know exactly what the future looks like doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't be prepared for it. Can you imagine a major corporation that would decide not to plan for the future for the reasons O'Toole lists? Of course not.

 
At 7:04 PM, January 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I suppose the Houston position could be characterized as "extreme." But I also think there are ranges of planning/zoning, and I stand by our goal: avoiding the most extreme forms of planning/zoning/land-use controls. Although you are also correct: I'd also like to avoid even the more "normal" forms of zoning/planning/land-use controls, because even they seem to have serious downsides.

> leading people to think that planning equals zoning

I'm not aware of any cases where the type of urban planning we are talking about is not intertwined with some form of zoning.

 
At 7:46 PM, January 29, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

You're comparing zoning to monarchy now?

The thing is Tory, I've lived in a few cities that have zoning, and I don't really recall anyone complaining about it. People might have gripes about what's allowed to be built here, or (more often) how they wish something wasn't allowed to be built that's going to be built, but I don't think I've ever heard someone say, "Let's give up zoning and let anything be built anywhere."

It's sort of like democracy... a person might visit the United States and hear us complaining about our politicians or about what laws are going to be passed, and be led to think, "Gee, this democracy thing seems like a lot of trouble... in my feudal society back home, people just accept what they're given and no one worries about it." But even though democracy has its headaches, I don't think anyone would want to give it up.

Come to think of it, that's a pretty suitable analogy, since zoning, like democracy, gives the people control over what takes place, whereas unzoned development, like feudalism, gives control to the wealthy.

 
At 9:42 PM, January 29, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> unzoned development, like feudalism, gives control to the wealthy.

Complete disagreement. Zoning favors the wealthy, who have the connections and influence to get what they want past the zoning board. Our zoning lets the "little guy" thrive - whether an individual owner or entrepreneur developer.

Zoning is based on the politics of fear: "beware the crazy land owner or developer - better let us politicians protect you from him." Houston is real-world evidence that the fear is far overblown, and the benefits of freedom are substantial.

 
At 7:31 AM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Brian S. said...

Mike,

If you recall, I am anti-freeway, so the answer to your question is no, I do not believe we should long term plan freeways. If a private entity wants to use its own money to build a tollway I have no problem with that because only their investors suffer the consequences of being inaccurate.

I believe preplanning and pre-development construction of roads subsidizes and encourages sprawl. I have heard many developers on "Hot on Houston" laud their far flung developments with "TxDot plans to build such-and-such roadway to service this area in the next few years".

I admit it is hard to conceive of how a city would operate without the city preplanning roads and building them before development reaches raw land because that's what everyone does. Because of this, I would typically defer to Tory's thought process on mass-transit "If they going to build it anyway we might as well do the best we can."

Just like my own finances, the further out into the future I plan the fuzzier I want my plans to be because I don't know what my situation is going to be at the time.

 
At 7:35 AM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Brian S. said...

Sorry Tory -

"If they ARE going to build it anyway we might as well do the best we can."

Doh! Didn't mean to imply that you think with bad grammar.

 
At 7:54 AM, January 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

No problem - I think w bad spelling too... ;-)

As far as road planning goes, I think what we do now works pretty well: plan assuming growth, get the necessary rights of way, but only start construction when the demand is actually there - don't build too early. HCTRA has long-term plans for toll roads all over the place (NE BW8, Fairmont Parkway, Grand Parkway segments, Ft.Bend to 610, etc), but they won't actually construct them until the need and demand is there. I think that's the discipline of a toll road system: if you build too early, the cash flow won't be there to support what you built.

 
At 9:46 AM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

And democracy doesn't favor those who have connections and influence? At least, in democracy, there is a chance that people can band together to stop something they don't want or to some extent control their destiny... just like zoning.

"Zoning is based on the politics of fear"... again, all these horror stories about zoning just don't pan out in the other cities I've lived in. Nobody is afraid of the evil zoning board. The fact that you never hear people in other cities wishing they did not have zoning, whereas you hear people in Houston all the time wishing that we had zoning (except developers), says a lot.

You look at this city through rose-colored glasses. Most people who visit here from elsewhere see plenty of "real-world evidence" why it pays to have zoning.

Lastly, on the topic of power and influence... if it wasn't for the power and influence of developers, we probably would have had zoning a long time ago.

 
At 11:12 AM, January 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Well, in Houston's case, the voters - not the developers - rejected zoning. Multiple times.

People don't call for the elimination of zoning because they don't know any better alternatives. Actually, many New Urbanists are fighting to roll back zoning. And for what it's worth in the realm of small, personal data points, my father-in-law - just your basic retired farmer - rants about the out of control zoning board in a rural county outside of Chicago.

 
At 2:56 PM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

The voters rejected zoning 52-48 after a highly funded campaign by developers scared them away from it. Like I said, power and influence....

 
At 5:06 PM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...

mike said...

"Zoning is based on the politics of fear"... again, all these horror stories about zoning just don't pan out in the other cities I've lived in. Nobody is afraid of the evil zoning board.

I beg to differ. Of course we do not have zoning boards in Houston, but just last month the Houston Chronicle carried a story about zoning in St. George Place, the only area in Houston with zoning:

http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives
/archive.mpl?id=2006_4249809

Registration is required to read
the story.

The thrust of the story was that the residents there were going bananas over the issue that 3 acres of undeveloped property in the community was going to have 24 townhomes and 12 patio homes built on the property. Needless to say, the residents didn't want this. The story goes on to say that over 100 residents (out of a community of only 326 households!) showed up at the TIRZ board meeting to take it out on the board members.

Some of the fiercest politics that take place in this country take place at local zoning board hearings. Many of those hearings involve zoning battles taking place over undeveloped property whereby people attempt (often successfully) to exert control over property that doesn't belong to them.

 
At 5:13 PM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard plenty of people bitch and moan about deed restrictions, which makes me believe zoning which is set up by an entity even farther away from the people would have to mean even more bitching and moaning.

 
At 6:09 PM, January 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

"The voters rejected zoning 52-48 after a highly funded campaign by developers scared them away from it. "

I suppose the same thing could be said about the 51-49 passage of light rail, but at the end of the day, it still reflects the will of the people.

 
At 10:06 PM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

No Tory, light rail passed despite a campaign led by private interests, and would probably have passed by a much greater margin without it.

At any rate, I think my original point is valid - zoning would have passed a long time ago were it not for the power and influence of developers.

 
At 10:09 PM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

Neal Meyer,

Don't you think it's nice that the residents of St. George's place have a fighting chance of stopping a development they see as damaging their area? Maybe they won't suffer the same fate of so many other once-nice Houston areas.

I'm not sure you understood my point. If these people were afraid of the zoning board, they wouldn't have gone to it. Instead, what you have are people taking an active role in a process that affects how they will live. Hence my comparison to democracy (as opposed to feudalism).

 
At 10:17 PM, January 30, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

Another thing - you said that the reason why there aren't any cities where the residents are wishing they didn't have zoning was because they "don't know any better alternatives." Well, I'm sure the residents of West University must know a better alternative... right? After all, they're surrounded by Houston.

Same thing goes for the residents of the Villages. They must realize that if they got rid of zoning, Memorial Dr. would start filling up with gas stations, strip malls, gated apartment complexes, etc., like every other road in the area.

Can you name any city that has zoning, where a significant number of the residents wish that it didn't?

 
At 10:37 PM, January 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Private interests defintely backed the pro-rail side of the referendum - esp. contracting companies that would benefit. It was the anti-side that was pure citizen activism

 
At 3:38 AM, January 31, 2007, Anonymous jk said...

It was the anti-side that was pure citizen activism

Uhh... Look at the composition of the Texans for True Mobility PAC that opposed the referendum and you'll see that there was nothing grass-roots about it. TTM was almost entirely bankrolled by a single suburban developer, Michael Stevens. That doesn't fall under the definition of "citizen activism" in my book.

 
At 7:25 AM, January 31, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

But he had nothing to personally gain financially by defeating the rail - and nothing to lose if it passed. He just had a very strong opinion against it, and was willing to put his money where his mouth was.

 
At 9:09 AM, January 31, 2007, Anonymous Mike said...

Who financed the anti-zoning campaign?

 
At 10:32 AM, January 31, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I honestly don't know. I didn't really follow it at the time (I don't even remember when the vote was). In most cities, big $ developers actually benefit from zoning, because little competitors can't afford to play (it's expensive to "work the system") - so I imagine it's the smaller, independent, entrepreneurial developers that fought it the hardest. That and all sorts of land owners that want minimal government interference with their choices.

 

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