Planning magazine recently (December 2009) published a story on the benefits of economic impact studies for planners. Most professional planners have run across them at one point or another: they are used to evaluate economic impact and the effectives of various types of programs on job creation. Unfortunately, the article did little to also illuminate the pitfalls and weaknesses of these studies.
As the housing market collapsed and gasoline prices spiked in 2007, many planners may have read Cornell University law professor Eduardo Penalver’s essay in the Washington Post with more than a little satisfaction.
I’m going to riff off a recent Interchange Blog post by Michael Lewyn on the relationship between mobility and accessibility. Given the positive comments from the planning community to Michael’s post, a little engagement may be necessary for both clarity as well as fully understanding the implications of reading too much into the accessibility versus mobility debate.
Downloading my newest addition to my Kindle library—the digital book service provided by Amazon.com—I remembered the gentle criticism of a planner on a list serve not too long ago. The thread was on sustainability and global warming. I had made the point that market economies were innovative economies, and too much of the planning discussion on sustainability focused on reduced consumption without seriously discussing the ways technology fundamentally changed our choice sets. The planner chastised me for my faith in markets, saying, in a nutshell, we need to focus on what we know we can influence and not hedge are bets on the past. The implication was that markets were too ephemeral and undependable to include in long-term planning.
Watching Slumdog Millionaire, the Oscar winning film of 2008 that is being released on DVD today, can be a bracing experience for those accustomed to the conveniences of Western living. The destitute living is accurately and graphically depicted and is all too real for those that have seen it. Yet, the real danger is letting the poverty obscure a larger, perhaps more important lesson about urban places: Many of these urban slums are functioning, productive cities in their own right, and represent an intergenerational path toward economic improvement.
The planning profession’s ambivalence toward Houston has always been a little frustrating. In part, the profession’s attitude is understandable. Houston hasn’t embraced planning’s conventions, so why should the profession embrace Houston?
Fair enough. But the downside is losing the opportunity to look at core issues and problems from a completely different lens. This is especially true when it comes to housing development where Houston performs remarkably better than its peers.
As the economy continues to lumber through the most protracted period of recession since the early 1980s, the financial sector has received the brunt of the blame. It’s been easy for the planning profession to distance themselves from what seem at first to be macroeconomic trends. That view, however, is becoming increasingly difficult to uphold.