Planning downtown Wichita revitalization: an impossible task?


At tomorrow’s meeting of the Wichita City Council, consideration of a plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita is on the agenda. Before the city goes down this path, we ought to become aware of some of the difficulties with this type of planning.

Randal O’Toole, in his book The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future, writes this about urban planners: “Because they can build a house, planners think they can design an entire urban area.”

He elaborates on the difficulty of the task:

Any who say they can write a comprehensive, long-range plan for a city or region necessarily presumes that

  • they can collect all the data they need about the values and costs of the land, improvements, and proposed and alternative projects in the planning area;
  • they can accurately predict how those values and costs will change in the future;
  • they can properly understand all the relationships between various parts of their region and activities in those areas;
  • they can do all this quickly enough that the plan is still meaningful when they are done; and
  • they will be immune to political pressures and can objectively overcome their own personal preferences.

What are the technical barriers to the success of planning? O’Toole lists these:

  • The Data Problem: Planning requires more data than can be collected in time for it to be useful to planners;
  • The Forecasting Problem: Planners cannot predict the future;
  • The Modeling Problem: Models complicated enough to be useful for planning are too complicated for anyone to understand; and
  • The Pace of Change Problem: Reality changes faster than planners can plan.

Are we in Wichita about to take on an impossible task?


3 responses to “Planning downtown Wichita revitalization: an impossible task?”

  1. Larry Weber

    An impossible task? I believe that someone may have said that to Christopher Columbus, the Wright brothers, about man walking on the moon, and most likely it was said in many other cases. So is someone’s impression it is an impossible task a reason for those with a vision to give up? History would say no. I will acknowledge that there are many cases of failure that individuals can point to as a reason not to move forward. Tomorrow City Council has the ability to make a bold step forward. I know they will have throughly researched and weighed all the options before them just as we the business community has in getting to this point.

  2. Cybex

    Mr. Weber, Columbus and the Wright brothers were visionaries and the City Council members are not Why do we need people from outside Wichita to tell us what we already know? What good if any have come from all the trips (junkets) that hundreds of our community members and politicians have made to other communities to learn from them? Is our community any better because of those efforts?

  3. […] situation, while the other is a problem of immense complexity with very little structure. My post Planning downtown Wichita revitalization: an impossible task? summarizes some of the characteristics that make planning such a difficult task. Deluding ourselves […]

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