Posts tagged with: urban planning

Soviet-era Moscow apartments

Soviet-era Moscow apartments

When it comes to urban planning, nobody beats the Soviets. First, they wanted to plan: no mish-mosh, haphazard cities, towns and burgs sprouting up like in the decadent West. Of course, structures had to address equality. No fancy neighborhoods in one area, and low-rent housing in another. And then there was functionality. Workers needed to be close to work. This eliminated the need for unnecessary and costly transportation. Soviet academic Alexei Gutnov described the planning this way:

Ideal conditions for rest and privacy are offered by the individual house situated in the midst of nature. But this is an expensive kind of well-being. . . . The villa
is the traditional retreat of the leisured minority at the top of the bourgeois society. The attempt to make the villa available to the average consumer means
building a mass of little houses, each on a tiny piece of land …’

In their rejection of the American model of suburban sprawl, Gutnov’s team specifically notes its unfeasibility in a society premised on equality.

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Blog author: ehilton
Friday, March 22, 2013
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(March is Women’s History Month. Acton will be highlighting a number of women who have contributed significantly to the issue of liberty during this month.)

The lives and deaths of cities in America is certainly topical. Drive through Detroit if you don’t think so. On one hand, block after block of decimated homes create a landscape of, let’s be honest, death. On the other, people in the city forge ahead, turning empty city blocks into burgeoning urban gardens, seeking out entrepreneurial options in cheap real-estate and office leases. Do the lives and deaths of cities “just happen” or is there planning involved?

courtesy of Biography.com

courtesy of Biography.com

Jane Jacobs, wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961, speaking out against what constituted much of urban planning. She said, in one interview, that urban planners were rather “hopeless”:

The chief planner of Philadelphia was showing me around. First we walked down a street that was just crammed with people, mostly black people, walking on the sidewalks and sitting on the stoops and leaning out of the windows. I think he was taking me on this street to show me what he regarded as a bad part of the city, to contrast it with what he was going to show me next. I liked this street—people were using it and enjoying it and enjoying each other. Then we went over to the parallel street that had just undergone urban renewal. It was filled with very sterile housing projects. The planner was very proud of it, and he urged me to stand at a certain spot to see what a great vista it had. I thought the whole thing was extremely boring—there was nobody on the street. All the time we were there, which was too long for me, I saw only one little boy. He was kicking a tire in the gutter. The planner told me that they were progressing to the next street over, where we had come from, which he obviously regarded as disgraceful. I said that all the people were over there, that there were no people here, and what did he think of that? What he obviously would have liked was groups of people standing and admiring the vistas that he had created. You could see that nothing else mattered to him. So I realized that not only did he and the people he directed not know how to make an interesting or a humane street, but they didn’t even notice such things and didn’t care.

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Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
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The Cato Institute and Randal O’Toole offer an appealing new book, The Best Laid Plans—a recounting of the failures of government planning. Think of it as extensive documentation of the truth Hayek observed half a century ago: it is impossible for a central authority to collect all the information or make all the predictions necessary to foresee how economic activity will play out. Therefore, it is impossible to plan centrally the operation of major sectors of the economy such as transportation and land use. (More precisely, it is impossible to do it well.)

Those two items—transportation and land use—are the main focus of O’Toole’s book. A taste, from the introduction:

Somewhere in the United States today, government officials are writing a plan that will profoundly affect other people’s lives, incomes, and property. Though it may be written with the best intentions, the plan will go horribly wrong. The costs will be far higher than anticipated, the benefits will prove far smaller, and various unintended consequences will turn out to be worse than even the plans critics predicted.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
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Robert Brueggman of the University of Illinois-Chicago offers a contrarian take on suburban sprawl in US News and World Report.

I’m not as relativistic as Brueggman is with respect to the aesthetic question: A lot of suburban shopping centers, highways, and neighborhoods are ugly—or at least boring—and don’t deserve to be preserved in the longterm. (Yes, a lot of urban buildings, highly respected by the architectural elite, are also ugly, in my opinion.) But Brueggman makes good points about the way most people view the benefits of suburbia and places the whole question in historical perspective.

For more on urban planning, Christianity, and markets, see the Spring 2003 issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality.