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?