Tea Parties and the Planning of America

Samuel Staley's picture

I recently had the pleasure of sitting on a panel convened by the Lincoln Instititute of Land Policy to discuss the Tea Party and its effects on local planning (a topic I've discussed earlier on this blog). At one point, the moderator asked if there were any successful techniques that planners could use to effectively deal with Tea Party activists. This was an intriguing question, but also one that I thought was a bit odd. Controversy and conflict are not new to planning; they are built into the very process of American planning because of its inherent openness and inclusiveness. The development approval process is inherently political, and planners are required to address a wide range of issues from participants, sometimes informed, often times not, during the process. Conflict and tension are inevitable, and often planners are the ones that are responsible for resolving them. In fact, I believe professional planners are often the best equiped to deal with these public controversies.

So, the question really is: Are Tea Party activists that much different from others participating in the public approval process? Is a Tea Partier different in a fundamental way from a NIMBY? Or a bicycle activist opposing a new road? Or a road warrior opposing a bicycle lane? I think not, and I think planners too often give too much credence to the Tea Party as an independent political force on the local level. In reality, Tea Party activists are ordinary citizens, and the vast majority were activized by national policy issues, not local (or regional) planning. Some are informed. Some are not. Some have real concerns, others simply don't understand the process or the project at hand. Planners serve a crucial role in bringing different sides to the table to help identify common ground (or sometimes more importantly areas of irreconcileable differences), in order to move public decisionmaking forward.

Accomplishing this task is not easy. As Tea Party activists become more involved on the  local level, understanding their concerns and motivations will be crucial for identifying productive paths forward.

Interestingly, I have just completed teaching a course for pofessional masters students at Florida State University that grapples with controversial issues, very much modeled on the practical problems of resolving local conflicts in local planning. Each week, the course highlighted an issue such as neigbhorhood development, land-use regulation and housing affordablity, transit-oriented development or urban slums, required students to read peer-reviewed research on both sides (often crossing academic disciplines), and then debate the pros and cons of a proposed project. The crucial role was played by the facilitator--the professional planner--whose job was to forge a path forward that addressed the concerns of both sides. Importantly, in each case, a path forward based on consensus was identified even though some students were always required to take hardline positions. (As a planning board member and chair, I faced similar types of problems on everything from rezonings that would potentially add hundreds of housing units to small parcel stormwater drainage, the bread and butter issues of local planning.)

We discovered, not unlike my exeperience running planning board meetings, that a mutually beneficial path forward is often possible even with people representing widely divergent views. Understanding and listening to all sides, giving each the respect that the public process demands, is a key part of achieving this goal. The solution is also in discerning which are real issues and which are largely rhetorical but carry a deeper meaning. Someone arguing against "Agenda 21" is often really motivated by a perceived fear that control over their community is being abdicated to non-local authorities. Citizens criticizing charettes and other planning excercises are often really concerned that they are being shut out of the decisionmaking process, or the process is unresponsive to ordinary citizen concerns.

For planners really interested in understanding the Tea Party, I suggest reading a few important books that really attempt to lay out their issues in their own words to understand their world view. Among the ones I have felt were most useful include,

Sam Staley is Associate Director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee.



Tea Party conspiracy theorists.

This was an intriguing question, but also one that I thought was a bit odd. Controversy and conflict are not new to planning; they are built into the very process of American planning because of its inherent openness and inclusiveness. ...So, the question really is: Are Tea Party activists that much different from others participating in the public approval process?

If you watch some of their videos on The Internets, you'll see their tactics are generally to disrupt the basic democratic planning process. La Plata Co in Colorado abandoned its comp plan revision because TeaPurtiers disrupted the entire process, because the UN is taking over, dontcha know.

So yes, the evidence is growing. They are different. And don't want democracy because th' plannin' is a conspiracy to take their property and guns. Dontcha know. Most NIMBYs won't oppose a plan/development because the NWO is gonna take yer guns.



A look at political polarisation around planning, in the UK

The estimable German economist Oliver Marc Hartwich has graced the tiny little South Pacific nation of New Zealand with his presence. This is NZ's gain, Germany's loss, and the UK's loss, and Australia's loss (he has spent time in all those nations, including years as colleague of Alan W. Evans in the UK - Evans is simply one of the world's most authoritative urban economists).

Here is Hartwich's first opinion-editorial in NZ

- End of Wodehouse comment -

Left vs. right? That's really so 18th century
Published in The Dominion Post (Wellington), 21 May 2012

Leaving political polarisations behind would open a path to a much more constructive dialogue.

As a newcomer to New Zealand, one of the biggest surprises to me was the degree of polarisation I perceived in its political discourse. In the complex world of 21st century globalisation the way in which debates are still conducted as "Left versus Right" is not only anachronistic. It almost guarantees that we will not find good answers to the challenges of our time. Such answers can only be based on empirical evidence. Political namecalling will not get us anywhere.

It was in the course of the French Revolution that political parties began to emerge, which then positioned themselves along a Left-right scale. The world has changed dramatically since the days of Hebert, Danton and Robespierre. But though nobody still rides in horse-drawn carriages or writes with feathers and quills any more, we cling on to the political labels developed in their days.

Maybe it is also because I am German, but little irritates me more than the term "Right-winger". In Germany, to label someone a Right-winger still borders on classifying him as a neo-nazi. For obvious historical reasons, the terms "Right-wing", or worse, "Right-wing populist", are heavily stigmatised. Thus almost every German, dedicated Left-wingers excepted of course, desires to be seen as "Centrist" to remain respectable.

After my departure from Germany in 2004, I first worked in Britain, then in Australia and now in New Zealand. In the Englishspeaking world I noticed how "Right-wing" has different connotations, albeit ones that are still fuzzy and corrosive of constructive public debate. The more I have been reflecting on these political labels the more meaningless they all appear.

Arguably, the messiness of the modern world seldom lends itself to easy characterisations. Though it would be nice to abbreviate topical debates, the Left-right dichotomy only gets you so far. Not least because what is Left and what Right changes over time. One such example I came across in my think tank work is town planning. Modern planning came out of early 20th century socialist thinking. It was the British government under (Labour) Prime Minister Clement Attlee that introduced a "Town and Country Planning Act". Its entirely laudable is idea was to plan good cities with affordable housing for people on modest salaries.

The Planning Act started its life as a quintessentially Left-wing, socialist project. Sadly, it failed to deliver affordable housing, as anyone who has lived in Britain can confirm. In a bizarre twist, recent attempts to reform the planning system have been resisted not by the Left but by the political Right.

That is because over time planning constraints kept wealthy conservative strongholds in the countryside insulated from new buildings (and less affluent neighbours). The price was paid precisely by those who were meant to be served by town planning: people on ordinary incomes who could no longer afford decent homes.

The effect of this Left-right swap is that conservative newspapers like the Daily Telegraph, also known as the "Torygraph", now lead the campaign against planning liberalisation. Meanwhile, rather Left-leaning organisations like charities for the homeless support such reforms. It is obvious that planning reform no longer matches Left versus Right thinking.

The traditional political dichotomy is even less clear when noneconomic questions are debated. The social goals of the historic Left have been achieved in most developed countries: universal suffrage, equal rights for men and women, religious freedom and the separation of church and state, to name just a few.

A century ago a programme containing such demands would have been Left-wing. Today nobody yearns for a return to the pre-democratic, feudal age. On these issues the traditional Left so comprehensively won that in a sense we are all Left-wingers now.

Finally, there are debates which are often fought as Left-Right debates where such thinking is completely inappropriate. Whether it is climate change, deep sea oil exploration or "fracking", how we stand on these issues should be informed by our understanding of science, cost benefit analyses and risk assessments, not by our position along a crude Left-Right spectrum. Engineering challenges have never been solved by political philosophers in any case.

The prevalence of Left-right thinking no doubt reflects its utility in short-circuiting political debate. But this comes at the cost of impoverishing the vitality of public debate. On social issues at least we may have buried most historic disputes between Left and Right but sadly they still try to rule our other debates from their graves.

The real challenge is to develop, test and apply policies with which we can achieve widely shared aspirations. Leaving political polarisations behind would open a path to a much more constructive dialogue between those who previously believed they did not have much in common. They would be surprised how many goals they share.

Dr Oliver Hartwich is the Executive Director of The New Zealand Initiative (www.nzinitiative.org.nz), which was formed by the merger of the Business Roundtable and the New Zealand Institute in April. Dr Hartwich is a German-born economist and former Chief Economist at Policy Exchange, Britain’s leading independent think tank.


The estimable ... has graced ...NZ's gain,...simply one of the world's most authoritative urban economists...

Brilliant. Because he appeals emotionally to a narrow worldview, he is, like, soooooo awesome OMG!!!!




There's no arrogance like the arrogance of ignorance

Never mind about "narrow viewpoints" that turn out to be right, huh? The fact that people who were right about something were in a minority, means that they can safely be ignored even after the mainstream has been proven guilty of the failure of their ideas.
For example, in a just world, "Austrian" economists should now be running monetary policy, and the failed central bankers and commercial banking cronies should be looking for employment in other lines of work.
Oliver Hartwich has been such a thorn in the side of the EU utopians, they sent a delegation all the way to Australia to try and get the Australian Govt to gag him while he was working there. The Australians, to their credit, told the EU Pooh-Bahs to get stuffed.
Everything Hartwich has been saying all along about the utopian EU project, has come to pass. The Eurozone simply cannot keep nations like Greece in it; politicians cannot kiss economic crashes better; austerity is unavoidable; excessive government spending is a cause, not the solution.
And urban growth constraint causes unaffordable housing.
Denial = Chavismo.

Dunning-Kruger Effect.

There's no arrogance like the arrogance of ignorance

I'm pretty sure several folks here have used this description of our intrepid ideologue.

Nonetheless, this is the authoritarian brain in action, right here folks. Researchers are starting to unravel what in our brains makes folks like this. Like fear.

Going to get a lot worse when cheap energy goes away and resource scarcity hits hard.



Energy, innovation, economics, Darwinism

Oh, yes, all that cheap energy that environmentalists are hysterically insisting we do not access because to do so would spoil the local Caribou or Halibut habitat. Funny, that.
And which economies will survive the longest "if cheap energy runs out"? I am picking Southern USA for that. All they will need to do is trade down their V8 pickup for a 4 cyl Jap car and instal geothermic air conditioning. It is the societies that are already paying behaviour-modifying TAXES through every bodily orifice, that will actually die out first - a kind of Darwinian self-selection for extinction. I love what Nordhaus and Shellenberger say; email did not make faxes extinct because we taxed faxes out of existence. Jesse Ausubel of the Rockefeller Institute likes to say the carbon intensity is going out of the world economy anyway, and has been doing so for decades merely for economic-evolutionary reasons. And Gwyn Prins and John Rayner (from the LSE) in a paper amusingly entitled "The Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy" suggest that Kyoto policies have actually SLOWED DOWN the level of reduction of carbon intensity in the world economy.
But of course, anything to do with "economics" is "ideological claptrap"; no-one could possibly be repeating the economically-ignorant hubris of "we know best" planning that has plagued portions of humanity before.

Planning "democracy" has nothing on "market" democracy

Most "democratic" "planning" exercises I am aware of, involve that the 0.1% of the population who live for politics, turn up and participate. The people who actually live in the real world, do not.

"The market", believe it or not, is actually the truest democratic representation of "what most people want". It is not necessary to make a whole lot of time to go along to meetings where you will be bored out of your mind and imposed on by a whole lot of wannabe tinpot dictators; you simply buy what you like best and what you can afford best; entrepreneurs take care of the rest. They go to endless trouble to know what YOU WANT. Planners go to endless trouble to try and pretend they know that what they want for you, is really what you want too (if only you were as well informed and righteous as they think you should be).

Market "Democracy" and Externalities

If I had time, I would reiterate the basics of the theory of externalities, which shows why market "democracy" cannot work.

Suffice it to say that, in a pure free market, everyone would dump their toxics in the public commons. That is why we need laws to control the market when it works against the public good.

Charles Siegel

You don't need to give me a lesson in externalities

Oh, yes, every evil capitalist looks at a seashore and thinks; "what would improve that seashore is a nice oil slick, and an expiring sea otter or two".
What better system has mankind had, than free market capitalism with democratic adoption of environmental protections as mankind's condition improves?
Do you understand why no-one at the start of the Industrial Revolution bothered about environmental protections? I recommend "The Rational Optimist" by Matt Ridley, to you.
Do you understand that progress has consistently replaced one set of externalities with a lesser one? Do you understand that horse drawn mobility caused typhoid? And limited mobility and high density caused disease? And that the amount of land required to grow food for horses and draft animals was less than what has been taken up by "urban sprawl" since automobility? And that limited mobility caused rising productivity to feed into rising real incomes for the land owning rentier class and almost nobody else?
Do you understand that economists at one time assumed that "positive externalities" usually outweighed negative ones? This is certainly true of "automobility".
In any case, as Edwin S. Mills and other economists have been arguing for years, government intervention in markets is justified in "getting prices right", but many interventions now take the form of blunt interventions that do not target prices or the indicators that are allegedly requiring to be altered (eg petrol consumption); and which introduce layers of unintended consequences that are certainly more harmful than beneficial. For example, urban growth constraints impose costs on society (and these costs are shared grossly inequitably) that are many times the costs (eg the "externalities" of urban sprawl) that are allegedly intended to be mitigated.
There is no lack of academic papers regarding this; it is the advocates of urban growth constraint and utopian public transport schemes that forever claim that only think tanks funded by "big oil" (yadda, yadda, yadda) oppose their advocacy, when in fact it is THEM who are relying on shallow advocacy work and ignoring solid academic work.
This "recommended reading" list seems to get bigger and bigger as time goes on:


No sign of Cox and O'Toole there, guys. Not that Cox and O'Toole are wrong, either. If you follow the money, there is BIG money to be raked in by big property investors when urban growth constraints push up the price of property. This cries out for some investigative journalism.

Sobbing paeans.

Do you understand
Do you understand
Do you understand

We understand that free markets cannot procure public goods and you've never taken a natural science class in your life. Which is why we understand why you spout ideological talking points and think they are brilliant revelations.

But its cute to imagine someone with a red ball nose reading them, punctuating with a honky horn.



Fine, I'll let readers judge

Fine, I'll let readers judge whether I was "spouting ideological talking points", and whether you are engaging in sensible debate.

Elementary Lesson In Economics

Oh, yes, every evil capitalist looks at a seashore and thinks; "what would improve that seashore is a nice oil slick, and an expiring sea otter or two".

In a completely free market, if there are two factories manufacturing the same product, and one saves money by dumping its toxic wastes in the river while the other spends more money to dispose of its wastes safely, consumers generally will buy the cheaper product. The factory that disposes of its wastes safely will not be able to compete and will go out of business. This happens because of the logic of the market, not because the factory owners are good or evil.

"Market democracy" does not give people what they want, unless they happen to want poisoned water.

Whether or not positive externalities outweigh negative externalities, people are still better off if they pass laws controlling the negative externalities. In fact, they are also better off if they pass laws encouraging acctivities with positive externalities, which is why we subsidize education. When there are either positive or negative externalities, there is a case for government action.

Charles Siegel

Economic growth is the greatest "benefit"

Sure, I don't dispute any of that; I am just saying that people at different stages of economic development, have different values. The regulatory standards are not the root cause of improvement, economic growth is; the regulatory standards come when people want them more than they need employment growth. In fact, regulatory standards applied too soon, perhaps using the "precautionary principle", would mean no progress at all. Like, fire should have been restricted, and the wheel, and the bow and arrow.
I agree on subsidising activities for which there are positive externalities. Our forefathers understood this about "roads". But I also think that PPP's are a superior approach to public monopolies.
I also disagree with the tendency to tax business growth via company taxes, in contrast to taxing distributed income, which is different. Business growth is undoubtedly of benefit to the economy and society, just as much as education is. It makes no sense to tax it. I mean, profits reinvested in the business and not distributed as income to shareholders or owners, should not be taxed, if we want to be consistent about the economic signals.

"Market" "democracy".

Planners go to endless trouble to try and pretend they know that what they want for you, is really what you want too (if only you were as well informed and righteous as they think you should be

Thank you for parroting this received "wisdom". Just because it appeals to your small-minority worldview doesn't mean it is true in the reality-based community.



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