Ditch government planners

The Washington DC Examiner Newspaper, The Examiner
2007-11-05 08:00:00

Centralized government planning is almost always a disaster, says Cato
Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole, who warns of the dangers of
letting government bureaucrats take more and more control over
Americans’ lives. A generation ago, we laughed at the hilariously
predictable failures of the Soviet Union’s five-year plans. Now we’re
allowing our own public planners, two-thirds of whom work for state
and local governments, to design our communities, manage our land
and natural resources, design our transportation and energy grids, run
our health care system and oversee much else.

Big mistake. In his new book, “The Best-Laid Plans,” O’Toole
documents example after example of government planning gone
hideously awry, starting with his hometown of Portland, Ore. — the
home of the “Smart Growth” movement. But Portland’s artificial urban
growth boundary sent housing prices spiraling in the once-affordable
city and dramatically increased urban sprawl — the very ills
smart-growth policies are supposed to prevent.

Washington-area residents should be particularly suspicious of the
current push for “walkable communities,” an idea championed by
idealistic English planners in the 1970s who created an extensive
network of bucolic garden paths in various new subdivisions, only
to have criminals become their design’s main beneficiaries. Similarly,
in a chapter on “Smart Growth and Crime,” O’Toole points out
how New Urbanism — a popular planning approach that promotes
high-density, mixed-use development and increased pedestrian and
bike traffic — also inevitably promotes crime, which is far more
prevalent in urban settings than lower-density residential neighborhoods.

O’Toole demolishes the widely held belief that government planners
are somehow smarter or more capable of managing the future than
market forces. In fact, even the planners themselves don’t believe the
hype. “The bitter irony, freely admitted by numerous planners,”
O’Toole writes, “ is that many if not most of the problems that the
planners propose to solve were caused not by the free marketplace,
but by past generations of planners and other government bureaucrats.”

Name a contemporary problem — traffic congestion, homelessness,
lack of affordable housing — all can be traced back to past
government planning mistakes. Yet despite all evidence to the contrary,
many Americans still expect the planners to miraculously get it right
the next time around. Better to fire the planners and let free people,
free minds and free markets use the genius of their freedom.



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