National Planning for the Next Century
This article was written in 2008, but its historical references remain useful.
"National planning in this country is widely believed to be an un-American activity, an exercise in bureaucratic hubris best left to the French. In fact, national planning is as American as the family farm, the transcontinental railroads, the great hydro-electric dams of the South and West, and the interstate highway system. Not only were these and other characteristic elements of our culture and economy the product of national planning; the federal government itself was created in large part to overcome the barriers to national planning that existed under the Articles of Confederation. Indeed, I would argue that no other nation has been so profoundly planned as the United States.
In this paper I will discuss the two great "campaigns" of national planning that have profoundly shaped this country: the 1808 "Gallatin Plan" of roads and canals whose themes guided long-term federal policy through the 19th century, and Theodore Roosevelt's 1908 set of conservation and transportation initiatives that guided the 20th century. My purpose is not merely to correct some myths about American history. As we approach the centennial anniversaries of these two great plans, we might ask: What elements in our tradition of national planning are still valuable and powerful? Where is the new vision for 2008 that can build on the achievements of 1808 and 1908 to reshape the nation over the next century?"