Friday, April 25, 2008

The Deficiencies of Planning

The Charlottesville Tomorrow blog has posted a 52-minute video of Reason Foundation policy analyst's speech to the Free Enterprise Forum on April 17. Besides Staley's opening remarks, there are questions from WCHV radio host Joe Thomas, Chamber of Commerce executive director Tim Hulbert, and others, followed by answers by the guest speaker.

At the beginning of the speech -- which is generally aimed at disabusing his listeners of the notion that planning is more effective than free markets, but with a respect for the political realities of what local authorities have to do when faced with changing circumstances -- Staley praises the Charlottesville Tomorrow web site for its comprehensive information on development and growth issues. He said he learned as much from visiting the web site as he could have learned spending a week in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area, and suggests that Charlottesville Tomorrow is nearly unique in the sort of resources it provides.

As summarized by Brian Wheeler and Sean Tubbs, who recorded the proceedings, Staley made five major points in his address:

* All local politics is conservative and resistant to change
* Change is inevitable
* Most planning tools are inadequate for addressing the demands of the market
* Comprehensive plans in particular are ineffective and inadequate for guiding community decisions about growth
* Markets work best if they are allowed to move freely
Staley did not limit his remarks to topics unique to Charlottesville, or of his own hometown near Dayton, Ohio (where he served on the local planning board). His observations have universal application, which is ironic because one of his key points is that, based on gatherable statistics alone, it is not possible to generalize about the effects of planning, since each locality has unique political, demographic, and economic circumstances.

I wish I had been present at the Free Enterprise Forum's luncheon where Staley spoke, since his speech and the Q&A that followed were interesting and informative. I'll have to remember to keep an eye on the FEF's web site for future events.

Luckily, Charlottesville Tomorrow was there with camera and microphone, producing this video:

Sam Staley is the co-author of Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century and of The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think and What We Can Do About It, as well as author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities.

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