Video: Sandy Ikeda on The Unintended Consequences of “Smart Growth”

I came across this video interview of economist Sandy Ikeda by the Mackinac Center. Sandy currently blogs at thinkmarkets and has contributed guest posts to Market Urbanism. I thought Sandy did a great job discussing many of the topics we cover in this site. Sandy is particularly insightful when it comes to the “dynamics of intervention” as it relates to how the planning philosophy in the early days of the automobile created living patterns now disdained by modern planners. Today, Smart Growth planners want to use top-down coercive methods to correct the wrongs of past planners top-down follies, but will they get it right this time? Check it out:

The Unintended Consequences of “Smart Growth” from Mackinac Center on Vimeo.

Update: Here’s what Sandy has to say at thinkmarkets…

  • josh

    As someone who works full-time for a smart growth advocacy organization, I can assure you that few smart growth advocates around here (Pennsylvania) “want to use top-down coercive methods”. Absurd!

  • http://twitter.com/geoffreydgraham Geoff Graham

    Sandy Ikeda is an impressive guy. Thanks for introducing him and the thinkmarkets blog.

  • epar

    I watched the whole video and Dr. Ikedia never really engages head on with smart growth policies. The opportunistic taking of a flood plain he cited doesn't have much to do directly with smart growth. Lots of municipalities have conducted questionable takings long before smart growth was around. He also expresses concerns over government intervention and the unintended consequences of subsidizing certain activities. I sympathize with those points, but again, this is just as much a hazard of our traditional planning system as it is with smart growth. Ultimately, I think its kind of silly to argue about whether or not cities should be planned. They always have been and always will be. To some extent, they must be. Planning has produced some of the best cities in the world and some of the worst. Paris and LA were both planned, and I'll leave it up to other commenters to decide which represents which. I know the idea of making normative judgments makes economists like Dr. Ikeda uncomfortable, but we do need to decide, as a public, what role cities should have. Should they be planned to serve exclusively as an office park for suburban commuters? Or can we plan them to be vital centers of activity for people from all walks of life? This choice comes with very real consequences for the environment, for our economy, and for civic life. Simply warning against government interventionism is an all-too-easy way to avoid the toughest issues.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    Hi Josh,

    I agree that Smart Growth tends to be much less coercive than traditional methods of planning in many regards, especially in infill areas. I support Smart Growth ideas such as loosening density and use restrictions. However, there certainly are aspects of popular (perhaps not in Pennsylvania) Smart Growth philosophy that are coercive. Particularly when it comes Urban Growth Boundaries, historic preservation, aesthetics, and various subsidies.

    It's heartening to hear that smart growth advocates in Pennsylvania are backing away from the coercive aspects of Smart Growth. Could you send a link to your org, so I can plug it?

  • http://discoveringurbanism.blogspot.com/ Daniel

    To his credit, Ikeda differentiates between smart growth and “interventionist” urban planning at the beginning of the interview, which the program itself (and lots of people) seem to see as synonymous. But he falls back into this, at least through his illustrations. What exactly is the connection between smart growth and eminent domain? If anything it's usually employed for exactly the opposite …

    It drives me nuts that for some strange reason smart growth policies are labeled as “interventionist” yet all of the status quo policies (minimum parking requirements, Euclidian zoning, etc.) that are still on the books of most jurisdictions are either ignored or even seen as organic, market-based, or whatever. Once again this criticism is directed less at Ikeda than the video producers: “Are there dangers associated with smart growth?” C'mon. What about the “dangers” of doing nothing and keeping policies as is? I agree with Epars comments, in many cases eliminating planning altogether is either politically unrealistic or undesirable (in my opinion). Maybe the focus should be more on what kinds of policies are most appropriate, that is that put the market to work aimed at a community's values and objectives, rather than on whether to have policies at all.

    Also, when it comes to “top-down,” i think there needs to be some discussion about the levels of government. I think of federal interventions when I hear that term, as opposed to ordinances set at a local level, presumably more tailored to the particular interests of the community. Most smart growth advocates are really working at this level.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    Epar,

    I also got the impression that the producers (and likely audience) of the video don't have a deep understanding of Smart Growth, although I assure you that Sandy would certainly engage the issues head on in an interview intended for urbanism enthusiasts. The the discussion was at a more philosophical level, intended for people interested in the generalities of policy. Much of the discussion would be more appropriate categorized into the broader category of “urban planning” as opposed to the more distinct “Smart Growth” – such as eminent domain, intervention, etc… I would venture to guess that the producers expected the term “Smart Growth” to get more attention than “planning”.

    Ultimately, I think its kind of silly to argue about whether or not cities should be planned. They always have been and always will be. To some extent, they must be. Planning has produced some of the best cities in the world and some of the worst. Paris and LA were both planned, and I'll leave it up to other commenters to decide which represents which.

    I disagree that it is silly. I think it is an important and interesting (see the Rothbard series) discussion, even if it somewhat removed from present day reality. But, one of the most important things that Sandy points out is the essential question of “who does the planning?”. Should it be the far removed bureaucrat who sees development as a political chess piece, or the individuals who have an actual stake in the outcome?

    This is why I think your statement, “but we do need to decide, as a public, what role cities should have” although sounds altruistic could be perceived as authoritarian. Of course, it depends on who the “we” is. And usually the “we” and “public” refers to those in power, not individuals since, of course, there is no such thing as a collective conscience.

    Simply warning against government interventionism is an all-too-easy way to avoid the toughest issues.

    Ultimately, this is where I diverge from planners, philosophically. I try to take humble approach to solving the “toughest issues”. I think that solutions to these will emerge through innovation in the private sector, as those in government, however clever, lack incentives to arrive at more sustainable solutions. I don't know all the answers to each an every tough question, and I think I'm a pretty smart guy. Thus I don't think top down solutions can provide the flexibility needed to address the diverse and tough issues encountered in urban development.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    Dan,

    It drives me nuts that for some strange reason smart growth policies are labeled as “interventionist” yet all of the status quo policies (minimum parking requirements, Euclidian zoning, etc.) that are still on the books of most jurisdictions are either ignored or even seen as organic, market-based, or whatever. Once again this criticism is directed less at Ikeda than the video producers: “Are there dangers associated with smart growth?” C'mon. What about the “dangers” of doing nothing and keeping policies as is?

    I agree. The traditional planning techniques are more ubiquitous than Smart Growth Policies, and at least in urban areas, many times more dangerous… I think the real danger is that these policies are so widespread that they are seen as a function of the market. The real challenge is confronting this orthodoxy, and Smart Growth advocates actually share this objective with Market Urbanists and could even be considered allies in that regard.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    Geoff,
    You may also be interested in the soon-to-be-released piece Sandy has written on Jane Jacobs: What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs

  • epar

    Thanks for your response. I fully understand the authoritarian tendencies in a statement like, “we do need to decide, as a public, what role cities should have”. I'm also aware of how private interests co-opted the public interest during they heyday of urban renewal to give us the dysfunctional cities we have today. But I still stand by what I said. Why? Well, I'm looking at the banner graphic of your website and I see a pleasant urban scene in France, not sure where but it seems like a popular place to be. I assume you like it too, since you put up top of your site. But I bet that streetcar is publicly owned, or operating under a government-provided franchise. That there are rail lines there to begin with, and not a street for cars, is the result of a government decision. I bet the facades surrounding the plaza have to meet government-imposed design guidelines. I'm sure there are restrictions on what type of businesses the tenants can run, too. The land for the plaza itself was probably acquired coercively by the government years ago (and I highly doubt landowners were afforded just compensation).

    This is where the tough issue comes in. As you point out, the “we” I refer to refers to those in power, not individuals. You're right, of course. But any democratic country, regardless of how laissez-faire it is, has to make basic choices about who will represent it and what decisions those people can make on behalf of the public. Apparently, some of those people in France have made good decisions for their cities. Similarly, the government of Copenhagen has succeeded in getting 30-something percent of its commuters to bike to work through building bike infrastructure. The result has been a great success for urbanism, but it didn't happen through the free market. Now maybe we could tie ourselves in knots theorizing on a privatization scheme that gets us to the same result. But the point is we don't need to, if we recognize the tough, messy reality that there's no unified theory on when government works and when it doesn't. Many times markets work, other times they fail. Sometimes voluntary action is feasible, sometimes its not. So once we get over this, we can move on to the more important debate over what makes for good cities and what we can do through our government to build them.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    I do recognize that if I restricted the use photos to urban places I like that were created without government's coercive hand, I would be limited to photos of lifestyle centers and Disney resorts. Just as 200 years ago I wouldn't have been able to photograph a plantation without any slaves. But, I still like those places….

    Ultimately I care less about the results of voluntarism than I do the ethics. So, I care little about working towards a certain percentage of society doing x, y, or z. But, I believe a society that moved towards more voluntarist ethics, would also be one that had more urban places I would appreciate.

    I consider myself an urbanist. I like urban places. But I find that most government intervention works against great urban places, not towards. So, before government intervening in favor of urbanism, I prefer to advocate abolition of the interventions that already stifle urbanism. Although we may differ ethically or methodologically, I'm certain we would be on the same page regarding elimination of government interventions that hamper urbanism.

    So once we get over this, we can move on to the more important debate over what makes for good cities and what we can do through our government to build them.

    I doubt I could get over this easily – I think it's not something to “get over” but a fundamental debate: the “why” debate should precede the “how” debate. So, let me ask you some essential questions:

    What is an example of market failure in your opinion?

    When is voluntary action not feasible?

  • sidburgess

    I certainly don't have the credibility to debate this subject, but a couple of thoughts I have:

    Why is a top-down approach bad by default? Some corporations, boards, and executive committees do need to intervene from time to time and are often the source of original missions and business models. The London sewers, Amsterdam's canals, and more are all excellent top-down solutions that were not emerging from the market (and in some cases fought the ideas). I just don't accept that top-down planning, no matter what the application, is inherently evil or dangerous. I do understand the “force” card that government has, but that is why the form of government (democratic) is critical. We wont achieve perfection, but most of the older cities that had some thought put in them appear to have done much better (at least as far as this layman can tell)

    I have seen plenty of examples of market collaboration at the expense of the consumer. I believe that a strong index system of laws that all can agree upon make a great starting point for the market to work it's magic without sacrificing the majority (London) with little to no recourse.

  • sidburgess

    I agree. The zoning laws need to be addressed. What about plotting of land? Our great-grandparents were doing it before zoning laws were here. Should that be an act of the market or by decree of the municipality?

  • benjaminhemric

    Benjamin Hemric writes:

    I haven't gotten a chance to view the video of Sandy's talk yet, so this isn't a comment on his talk or the responses people have had to it. But “Epar” wrote something interesting that I think is worth discussing further, if it hasn't been discussed here already (the following numbering, which separate outs the various points being made, is mine):

    Epar wrote:

    Ultimately, I think its kind of silly to argue about whether or not cities should be planned. [1] They always have been and always will be [“planned”]. [2] To some extent, they must be [“planned”]. Planning has produced some of the best cities in the world and some of the worst. [3] Paris and LA were both planned, and I'll leave it up to other commenters to decide which represents which. [4] I know the idea of making normative judgments makes economists like Dr. Ikeda uncomfortable, but we do need to decide, as a public, what role cities should have. [5] Should they be planned to serve exclusively as an office park for suburban commuters? Or can we plan them to be vital centers of activity for people from all walks of life?

    Benjamin Hemric writes:

    In conversations about urban “planning,” I think it’s useful to define what it meant by the word planning, as the word seems to mean different things to different people. Using the word “planning” in the conventional way that it seems to be used today, I think it is untrue that cities have been and always will be [planned] (item 1 above). I also think it is untrue that they must be planned and that LA and Paris (yes, even Paris) were both “planned” (items 2 and 3 above).

    It seems to me that the word “planning” as it is actually used today, almost always is referring to what might be termed “comprehensive” planning , whereby governments try to self-consciously plan things that they were NOT planned in the past, before the advent of the field of city planning. It does not mean any government action whatsoever (e.g., the construction of streets, parks, police stations, etc.).

    I think an analogous situation exists with regard to the definition of economic planning. Governments decide how much money to print, etc. But this isn’t what people mean when they talk about economic planning. Economic planning is when governments try to “comprehensively” plan an economy in a self-conscious way. (The clearest and most extreme examples of this were, of course, seen in communist countries in the 1950s.)

    Regarding Paris as a planned city. Of course, I know about the boulevards and other “planning” regulations. But as I understand it, before the boulevards, etc., Paris was a thriving, teaming unplanned (in the sense that we used the word today) city.

    P.S. – Perhaps I’m not using the website correctly, but while I’m typing it, I can only see two lines of my post at a time. Is there anyway one can type and see more of what one is typing?

  • sidburgess

    I am certainly no expert, but what I have read of Paris, it was actually a slum town. Haussmann is largely credited for bringing Paris out of that.

  • benjaminhemric

    While I'm not an expert about Paris either, from pretty much all that I've read about it (and about the history of Western cities in general) it would seem to be inaccurate to call Paris, before Haussman, a “slum town.” It was, so it seems, a pre-Haussman city — one that was not that much different from most other great cities of the time. (Which isn't to say that parts of it, maybe even very large parts of it, wouldn't offend today's sensibilities.)

    In any case, the point is that Haussman's boulevards, for all their functional and aesthetic benefits, did not create the economically and politically important city of Paris. So it seems inaccurate to me to call Paris a planned city; a not insignificant portion of Paris was already there, and was already a great city before Haussman came along.

    Plus, when Hausman built his boulevards (and sewers, I believe), etc., this was not, at least from the little I've read, (“comprehensive”) planning in the sense that the word has today, with government officials self-consciously choosing winners and losers among various activities and then putting them in various zones at various densities, etc. in order to create a near perfect static (or very slowly changing, under the watchful eye of planning authorities) “planned” community. In comparison to the professional (“comprehensive”) planning of today, I think it would be more accurate to call Haussman's great improvements to Paris, brilliant ad hoc problem solving (of transportation, sanitation and aesthetic problems) of problems facing an already great metropolis (destined to become even greater due to the brilliant problem solving).

    Similarly, I think it would be inaccurate to call NYC (which I am more knowledgable about) a (“comprehensively”) “planned” city. The laying out of its 1811 street grid (which also provided for some parks), the construction of its horse drawn street car lines, it's great water supply system, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the NYC elevateds and subways (and PATH system), the development of Times Square, the great Garment District (and other business districts), the construction of Pennsylvania Station, Grand Central Terminal “city,” the slicing through of Seventh Avenue South and Sixth Ave, the Holland Tunnel, the construction of Rockefeller Center, etc. were NOT the result of professional (“comprehensive”) planning. Rather they were all, so it seems to me, relatively narrowly focused ad hoc solutions to problems or business opportunities that were generated by the economically growing metropolis of New York City. The government initiatives themselves also seemed to be narrowly focused on specific problems. Some of these developments were even proposed by ad hoc groups of private citizens, or were even business propositions (or originally meant to be business propositions, like the Brooklyn Bridge).

    - – - – -

    P.S. — I'm typing from a different PC, but it seems like the problem I mentioned is gone.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    It certainly could be handled by the market. Consider that title insurance is a market solution in present US society.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    Its not bad by default, but it starts to break down as an efficient and effective means of coordination as it gets too big and cannot support the weight of its own bureaucracy.

    The problem with the examples you gave, is that it is nearly impossible to imagine the market-based counter factual because it was not allowed to emerge. It would be interesting to compare those examples with a market-based approach such as the growth of the internet, cellular phones networks, and railroad networks.

  • sidburgess

    Oh I hear ya… I just need to see some hard evidence it can be handled well. It is like privatizing the roads. It sounds wonderful in theory, but as much of a fan of the market as I am, I am also very worried about corporatism. Looking for a balance. I am absolutely apposed to anarchy. It is too easy to disprove it as a viable option. It always leads to some form of feudalism. And so long as humans are going to faction up, I would prefer to have the right to control that faction in some way. As an elected official, I acted as a balancing mechanism. A citizen watchdog to ensure that the very system that we propped up, wasn't going to grab for more power. Perhaps in the end, I am much more content with Athenian democracy than what our founders envisioned (republic with a taste of Aristocracy). The two aren't far apart but the Republic at least attempts to level the playing field against those with money.

    Well, not wanting to high-jack the topic of the post. It was a neat interview.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    great response benjamin. I actually have a post that has been a draft for about a year that discusses some similar cocepts. I plan to try to wrap that up and get it posted since it is timely to this discussion.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    Regarding roads, I too would want to avoid corporatism. But, if the gov't
    could get out of the way, competition would certainly beat the current
    monopoly. Perhaps the question for another post is, what's worse for
    roads: corporatism or monopoly? In some ways the options are nearly
    identical the government is calling the shots either way – its the
    difference between socialism and fascism…

    After years of mulling these ideas over and questioning my assumptions, I
    have come to disagree with your thoughts on government- even after most of
    my life agreeing almost completely with what you are saying. But, that's a
    topic beyond the scope of this blog. Maybe if we ever have the chance to
    meet for a beer…

  • sidburgess

    I would very much like that. Next time you are in OKC, let's do it. :)

    I would also love to visit with you just to hear about journey. I was once very libertarian and then I tried getting anything done and found the whole movement was failing miserably. The irony is, libertarians (including myself for time) couldn't grasp the concept of voluntary grouping of people to form cities. What naturally follows is where I had to part my ways. I see nothing wrong with those voluntary groups creating rules and asking those who live “among them” to abide by them. Society rules are considered vital to our advancement as a society and I find nothing wrong with it.

    It is tempting to jump on a train to come up for that beer. I really would love to hear your thoughts.

  • benjaminhemric

    Re: the meaning of the words “planning” and “planner” in the context of urbanism

    Re: confusion over the word “planning” (and “planner”) in the context of urbanism

    Market Urbanism (Adam) –

    I look forward to your essay!

    I don’t know if you had a chance to look at it, but there was a related discussion over on Daniel’s “Discovering Urbanism” blog. Daniel’s original post is entitled “My working definition of Planning,” dated November 18, 2009. My comments in the thread are from 11/21/09 and are currently the last three. (My three comments are really only one post that I broke up into three parts in order to get by the software’s word limit. But it really isn’t that long.)

    To paraphrase my comments there, it seems to me that, in the English language as it is used today, there is currently no “neutral” term to denote the study of cities that does not also imply that cities are to be, at least to some significant extent (“comprehensively”) “planned.” Our current lexicon presumes that, in studying cities, people are also in favor of (“comprehensively”) planning them – in the sense that people who study cities are interested in city “planning,” and the word “planning,” as it is used in the field, also essentially means some form of “comprehensive” planning. (I think it’s fair to say that it does not mean market urbanism.)

    In my comment, I point out that the same is not true with regard to our language and the study of economies. The field of economics is not called economic planning; and the people who study economics are NOT necessarily called economic planners. Instead, with regard to the field of economics our language has “neutral” words like “economics” and “economists.” And economics and economists can be either for (“comprehensive”) economic planning or against it (and those economists who are against comprehensive economic planning can favor relatively modest monetary interventions, instead, for example).

    Here’s the URL:

    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=507929

    P.S. — It's back! (I'm referring to the New Comment box that allows you to see only two lines at a time.) But since I'm typing from yet a different PC, perhaps it has to do with the settings of the PC's rather than the blog?

    Sat. 12/19/09 – 11:25 p.m.

  • http://marketurbanism.com MarketUrbanism

    Sandy commented on the video at thinkmarkets here:

    http://thinkmarkets.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/th

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/THW7SRSEQLHT2I7DP6UR36QGQY Daniel

    Libertarian, I believe too much that individuals can solve all the problems but likely to have suboptimal results. Of course, the other side which is government intervention and coercion tend to have just the same results. My view point has been that with proper regulation, to make thing 'Regular' and not 'Restrictive', that properly reward individuals who invest their capital will create the best results.