Monday, October 16, 2006

Bucolic Pre-Planner America

A Craftsman movement would be great but not possible in today’s political environment. Planners will not allow 1100 sf homes on 1/4 acre and back alley services. Planners will not allow wide boulevards and muncipality mantained tree belts. Planners will not allow neighborhoods or communities to develop over time organically and naturally without their guiding hand. Nice but not possible unless we first kill modern planning.


Anonymous said...

Which is why my dream home has been a refurbished 100-year-old Craftsman in my city's old Historic District.

Bob said...

Toll Bros.' chief architect lives in a "... 1915 craftsman-style bungalow..." (NYT magazine 10/05).

At least he can recognize quality design.

Anonymous said...


Rob Dawg said...

100yo is abit early for being "Craftsman." Few survive but we get the idea.

Ain't that the truth. So much of what was built for the last 4-5 years was for others so that they wouldn't bother their "betters."

Exactly. And did we vote for these clowns? Did we ever give them any authority? These Sickos get squeezed out of college and muck with peoples' lives. The "best" move on to private "practice" and subvert the laws they never enforced. It is a mess.

Rob Dawg said...

Anon 2:57,
The SOVIET always says the SOVIET is always right. There's a difference. ;-)

Rob Dawg said...


Ohhhhh, a double blog crossover lurker. Thank you so much. Honestly, my shictk doesn't always stick or appeal. That someone even bothers to pay attention is most welcome.

Someone calling themselves "Leslie" recently complained that I don't post enough. That is changing now that the new office is almost finished. Tomorrow is a rant about transit culled from the pages of for but one example. HP is a poor forum IMO. Too many shouting not enough listening.

Anonymous said...

That's why I'm hanging on to my 1915 bungalow (with a 5 minute commute to work downtown) tightly!

Anonymous said...

Replace the word "planner" with the word "developer" and you would be correct.

And the laws you speak of were enacted by your City Council (which is ellected) because of pressure by private sector developers, not your planners who have no legislative authority whatsoever.

Rob Dawg said...

Anon 7:15,
Let's see... 1915 bungalow, 5 minutes from a downtown.

That would put you in the West, Denver-San Diego-PNW triangle. A recognisable downtown eliminates SoCal so I'm guessing PNW. 1915 means established, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver. Portlanders are too wierd and besides they'd brag about their 5 minute trolley ride instead of just "commute" so I guess Seattle.

How'd I do?

Rob Dawg said...

I think youare being naive about the mechanics of municipal planning. Certainly developers and planners collude and then conspire to sway electeds but there really exists aplanner class here in the US with an agenda and real power.

Metroplexual said...


I think you have it wrong. The reason houses are built as large as they are and with blah architecture is that the "new home" buyers want high square footage and interiors with pergraniteel. The exteriors be damned.

As for a planner class? I am a planner and don't see myself in a class per se. As for the agenda, well from what I have seen in your writings, I would have to agree. You have expressed your distaste for planning and I can accept that not everyone needs to have their community planned in the micro sense, especially exurban areas. But in the macro sense regions do need planning, resources like water and road networks have limits.

The agenda you speak of is wiser landuse, with preservation of farmland and other natural and historic resources, wise use of transportation networks and seeing the carrying capacity of a region not being exceeded. Guilty as charged!

BTW, I visit your blog because I enjoy the contrarian viewpoint and I want to understand it.

Rob Dawg said...

First, my position is one of love the sinner condemn the sin. I know agreat many people who would describe themselves as planners and to aone they are urbane, educated, levelheaded, etc. They are interested in the same things as iand both they and i understand our differences are those of "strong opinions weakly held."

You are only partly correct that square footage is driven by consumers but it is also influenced by the planner dictates of built out urban environments. When CUPs and such make adding on nigh impossible it forces inital construction to appeal to the maximum potential client.

I too bemoan the lack of exterior ammenities and do not blame planners except in passing. For instance the zero lot line contributes to the prevelance of slab exteriors does it not?

Myy distaste for planning stems from the structure that is seemingly immune to public will. I've reviewed general plan resident surveys where more than 90% of the respondents desired either the same or lower densities and I never ever seen a General Plan that adopted the finding.

Yes, regional planning and resource protection and allocation are necessary but even there planning subverts or leaves opportunity for politics to subvert even when there is compelling rationale. I'm thinking about invisible water capacity for but one instance. And then there's transportion infrastructure. Some but not all urban planners are deliberately encouraging congestion as part of a transit advocacy agenda. It's things like those that have me on the other side of the debate.

Metroplexual said...


I know you live in CA where some sanity prevails. I am a planner in NJ land of homerule (and the likes of Tony Soprano types).

The boogeyman here is a child of school age. It drives zoning approvals as well as variances. Age restricted housing is approved all over the place and many of the houses are 2 br 1300 sq ft bungalows. SFR housing would never get that kind of housing approved for two reasons here.

First, it wont pay the freight on property tax for the hypothetical 2 kids that would move in. The second is that with all the regulatory hurdles that must be accomplished more than $60K is spent per unit before any site improvement are added. So a builder in his/her own self interest will maximize the reuturn on investment and build the largest house that zoning and the market will bear and the municipalities like that because more freight is being paid.

Metroplexual said...

As for public input, generally unless there is a hot issue like some LULU people never show up at public meetings. As for your example I am sure that happens but by an appointed planning board. The appointer is elected and that is one of the places where the public has input as well as public meetings.

You are correct that the process gets subverted, I can tell you of many examples in NJ where laws were broken when zoning was changed for a builder and it was buried in other ordinances. BUt that is criminal imo.

Anonymous said...

I think you are blurring the roles of planners, developers, and elected officials into one. Planners and developers are two sides of a coing and are typically at odds with one another in American planning. Planners focus on serving the public as a whole by influencing development patterns while developers typically (but not always) serve a select group of the public, such as maximizing a client's profit or creating housing for those that can afford them, which means meeting the demands of the market (a lot of single homes on the smallest amount of land possible).

Elected officials are usually the mitigator between these two groups and always the big-decision makers. They are the ones that create zoning laws. Usually developers have enough power to influence Council rather easily while planners have their jobs at stake any time they argue against Council.

Developments and zoning changes are approved by an appointed Planning Commisions which, regardless of the name, rarely has a single planner on it. It is usually made up of regular citizens and often friends of big developers. This un-planning-educated/experienced group of citizens are the ones that approve zero lot line subdivisions (something invented by developers, by the way, not planners). Developers come to these commision meetings to support their project because, if it is accepted, they stand to make a lot of money off of it. Planners can't always come to represent the public interest, however, as this would require attending these meetings constantly.

The thought of planners and developers conspiring on anything is least here in Texas.

As planners, our mission is to represent the public interest in shaping the built environment. So, if we do have an "agenda," that would be it. If and when citizens show up at public meetings, we try to represent their opinions as best as possible. You have to realize, however, that there are conflicting things in public opinion, such as those that stand to make alot of money attending the meeting to support a residential to commercial zoning change, while the general public does not attend the meeting to voice their concerns.

Metroplexual said...


I also forgot to point out that planning in the U.S. goes back to the beginning of the U.S. L'Enfant planned Washington D.C., Paterson, NJ was a planned industrial city that Hamilton championed. So this eden of non planners in the US never really was.

Rob Dawg said...

The examples of DC, or even the Champs d'Elysse or other clean sheet public spaces are not what we are talking about here. Indeed I find those efforts preferable to the current situation and will admit to their being the possible equals of organic development. Remember these were/are plans of layout not content. I don't konw if it applies but I am reminded of Mullholland and his "There it is, take it." He didn't say "Use this to implement the goals of the controlling General Plan subject to Conditional Use Permitting."

Carlsbad Jim said...
While fretting over what is wanted and needed, can you slip a note to some of these builders... Don't say you can't influence what they build. I think if they were going to listen to anybody, it would be the local planner.

That's the job of a planner. Demographics, community goals, infstructure utilzation.

Adam said...
I think you are blurring the roles of planners, developers, and elected officials into one.

In the general sense, yes I am painting planners with a brush better used to condemn the "planning process." That said I think you'll find there is a deep schism twixt the stated and revealed "public interest" as you call it and what exactly planners choose to implement.

Metroplexual said...


What you are describing sounds more like an architect. Unless form based codes are what you think of when planners are involved.


Brookings on exurbs, my brother-in-law Robert Lang is extensively quoted.

Rob Dawg said...

Wow. Small world? I've been commenting on Mr. Lang for more than a decade. IIRC correctly much more positive than negative.

Anyway I suggest caution, "codes based" is NeoTrad, NURB, etc code for density. The City of San Buenaventura (Ventura, CA) is the latest victim.

Regional architecture does involve regional planning and point developments that generate externalties. Don't mistake my objections to the current situation with some wierd libertarain idea that no controls would be better.

Metroplexual said...

"IIRC correctly much more positive than negative." I am sorry I don't understand.

Yeah form based codes can be deadly for your city West Palm Beach in Florida is also a victim where the planner Ian Lockwood actually took out road way capacity and one way thoroughfares for the pedestrians. Robert Lang tells me it is a nightmare city where you can only drive at 2 mph and every block looks the same. Sort of like the background when the flintstones are driving their car, the scenery repeats but at a very slow pace. The worst thing you can do is have your city be monotonous.

Some places have pulled it off, though it should be used judiciously.

Just what has Rob been brought up in the context of

Metroplexual said...

Never mind, If I Remember Correctly. Never seen that one before.

Anonymous said...

Question if any of you would like to respond. Why can there not be any Architectural free zones set aside for the wierdos with the means to purchase land and get creative ?
One thing I haven't heard reference to in your discussion is the influence individual home owners have in the process of shaping neighborhoods.

A couple of big shots move into a semi rural neighborhood like mine build a luxury compounds then all the sudden the county is putting new standards out because of pressure from the bigshots.I know it happens in beach communities too,usually over views or parking.
I am also suspicious that zoning rules and code are used to drive the economy or direct my money to some one elses pockets. I had to spend so much money making sure that the windows were compliant that there was nothing left for quality let alone beauty. Radiant heat barrier's are a joke for instance.I can't get out of installing it even though I am putting dormer vents high and low on the roof of my current project.The dormer vents are effective. They make the interior feel like you are standing in the shade in the summer.Don't get me going on the new fire resistive measures we have to comply with. There is zero flexibily on many requirements even if they are rediculous for specific situations and will cause harm to the structure or unfair and uneccessary budget run ups.
Most people at the building department here in San Diego are great but powerless.They work for God evidently. The system is actually cruel and causes as much or more harm as good to the projects of concientious builders.Meeting the requirements of the inspection process has caused many of my projects to be unneccesarily exposed to rain. It doesn't ruin anything but it does definitely degrade the project. It hurts my damn feelings too.Then after all of that the jurisdiction has no liability for the building whatsoever. Well yes,this is California.

Bob said...

this morning & thought of this thread.

Despite the benign goals ("housing for teachers, etc.") this is part of the Mayor's plan for housing density, density, and more density (with more subsidized transit and less industry)as put forth in the recently released "Garvin Report" prepared by NY's most powerful urban planning firm. I believe the consequences of this philosophy will be unintended and negative.

Patrick Prescott said...

The price of land may have something to do with the fact that lot sizes are now so small. Also, don't romanticize this era too much. That was when the bulk of Americans lived on farms or if they lived in cities, they lived in apartments, row houses or crowded tenements if they were poor. The era you reference was a time when the population moving into neighborhoods that “developed over time organically and naturally” was very homogeneous. Tastes and lifestyles were defined by the narrow social class to which the homeowners belonged. They were reared in a manner that was consistent with others of their class throughout the country.

The level of taste in architecture is pretty low these days, but more people own their homes and live a middle class lifestyle that was once limited to a well off (mostly white) few. Just look at areas of Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Certain cities have no design review for single family homes. This allows the residents the opportunity to decide how their homes will look, with no interference from the dreaded planners. Have you seen the monstrosities? You can’t lay that on planners.

You reference "modern planning" but I'm wondering if you follow recent movements in planning theory such as formed based zoning, transit oriented design, new urbanism, and neo-traditionalism. I also wonder if you are aware of planners who work every day to overcome archaic zoning ordinances.

And Craftsman homes are not the end all be all. They require a precise type of furnishing (some built into the home) and color in order to be considered “authentic.” More oppressively dark and limited than some zoning.

Rob Dawg said...

Patrick in all innocence writes:

"You reference "modern planning" but I'm wondering if you follow recent movements in planning theory such as formed based zoning, transit oriented design, new urbanism, and neo-traditionalism. I also wonder if you are aware of planners who work every day to overcome archaic zoning ordinances. "

You didn't spend much time looking at my blog did you? You didn't google TOD or nurb plus my name either. I am a vocal opponent of the movements you list. I also live one town over from San Buenaventura (Ventura City) where Rick Cole and hisbrownshirts have set up shop.

Start here:

Patrick Prescott said...

You didn't spend much time looking at my blog did you?

No. Is that a requirement? A friend sent me this link so I responded to the post.

So, you'll be voting yes on Prop 90 I take it.

Rob Dawg said...

Prop 90 is like Prop 13; a hatchet where a scalpel is needed. I am reluctantly supporting this overbroad measure for roughly the same reasons I support the Jury requirement of unanimous conviction and the necessity of jury nullification. If the legislature had done its job Prop 13 or Prop 90 neither would have been necessary. Oh, and the Anti-90 ads are the worst form of technically true and still misleading.

Anonymous said...

Planned Community = set from Over the Hedge.

Metroplexual said...

Craftman style architecture is based on Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie style architecture which was a very utilitarian vision of housing. It was in stark contrast to the Victorian vision which had 10 foot cielings and all the frou frou outside and in.

FLW envisioned "broadacre" which was his idea of suburbia which included 2 acre lots which were farmed for fresh produce and were very automobile dependent. As for the era Patrick, that was America then, so what, the architecture is very livable and efficient with small bedrooms and large open interiors for entertaining. Most of these houses are on small lots however.

Bob said...

Thanks anon 1:57 -- OTH is on my rental list. Favorite line:

RJ: That is an S.U.V; Humans ride in them because they are slowly losing their ability to walk.

Lew the Porcupine: Wow it's huge!

Hammy the Squirrel: How many people fit in there?

RJ: Usually, one.

As to your comment, may I propose a slight refinement:

OTH = community designed by developer

NJ Transit Village = fake community designed by urban planner

When they really get carried away you end up with Brasilia.

Metroplexual said...

Hey Lex,
I don't know how it works in CT but NJ is the most difficult place to plan in because of home rule.

"NJ Transit Village = fake community designed by urban planner"

Actually everything here is designed by committee that is why it is al crap. If they had the faith to let the planner go with it they would have gold but instead they get junk.

Anonymous said...

Many here overly complain about the planners (government employees who range from lame to talented, more toward the former) when the group driving land use decisions is really the "community" activists (at least in my area--N. CA).