Monday, February 05, 2007

Vision thing

In the New Yorker of Feb 5, Paul Goldberger writes in praise of Robert Moses ("The Skyline: Eminent Dominion"). I suppose that there are some positives no matter where one looks, that designers like Goldberger naturally believe that cities require a top-down master plan, that every maligned historical figure gets a second look and that a golden age hew can be attached to almost anything more that a quarter-century old.

Moses was good at what he did and, thereby, exposed the folly of his enterprise. But critics as well as fans draw all the wrong conclusions. Goldberger writes: ".... he would charter small planes and fly back and forth across the metropolitan area to get a better sense of regional patterns. His vision of New York was of an integrated system with an urban center, a suburban ring, and a series of huge public recreational areas, all connceted by parkways."

This is how designers talk but it is patent nonsense. The region is in reality infinitely complex. It can succeed only insofar as millions of locators evaluate the many complex trade-offs that various available sites (in the city, the region and beyond) offer. The best that we can hope for is that the Moses-Goldberger-type visions do not make this too terribly difficult.

The "vision" that planners should clarify, instead, is that clear and credible property rights are required for locators to make good choices and for cities to function (to be the "engines of growth"). As they advise policy makers, planners should point out the instances where well meaning policies cause fundamental problems. That would be valuable work and that activity is miles away from Moses-Golberger.