Monday, November 08, 2004

city planning v. freedom

peter lindberg linked to an interesting discussion between christopher alexander (of pattern language fame) and bruce snider (editor of custom home) entitled 'a dialogue concerning force and freedom'. this is a discussion about balancing 'liberty' and 'correctness,' specifically in the context of city planning but i see it as generic (especially in light of current politics).

here's the preface, where they lay out the city-planning-specific elements of the convo.:

Bruce: I would like to promulgate a better model for putting people on the land, in living communities rather than the fabricated developments that pass for communities these days...

If [Northport, ME] grows by, say, 5,000 people in the coming decades, chances are that growth will take the form of sprawl, with developer subdivisions and strip commercial development along the major roads.

I have a notion of what I would like to see instead...

...However, I do not know how to do it, and I do not know, even, how to communicate the need for it to my fellow townsmen.
There must be some way to steer the town's development so that we end up with a real town--with a town center, real neighborhoods, and so on--rather than the kind of centerless sprawl we see all around the country.

then the convo. gets into the more general ideas about freedom:

Bruce: The issue is difficult to discuss because of the strong local sentiment that ANY kind of regulation is negative. People here have lived their whole lives enjoying freedom...But if we leave things as they are, the future of the town will be determined not by the people who live here but by others who have no stake in the real life of the community.

Chris: ...If you criticize their attitude so strongly, are you not hinting that within yourself, within the freedom-loving Bruce, there rules a secret rod of iron, in the form of a disciplinarian who is going to tell people what they may and may not do...

...Perhaps you are indeed (as they fear) one of those people who wants to force something down their throats. And their freedom-loving instinct tells them that something about your desire to help is dangerous and unsavory.

Bruce: Well, you may have just nailed me as a closet totalitarian. Still, I can't help but believe that if the town rejects planning of any kind then we make ourselves vulnerable to a future none of us would choose....

Chris: ...I just do not believe that this is a truthful picture of human beings, nor of your own feelings about your own life. You don't want people to tell you what to do either. You feel OK saying all this stuff mainly because you feel so deeply that the beautiful world you know is likely to be destroyed -- and also, perhaps, because you see yourself as one of the people who is going to do the telling, not one of the people who is going to be at the receiving end of the telling.
To solve this problem, I think that one must propose a very clear legal distinction between what a private landowner (an owner-occupier) can do on his own land, and what a (by definition absentee) developer can do...
In Stafford county, Virginia, there is an experimental new zone currently under discussion, which is a developer-free zone -- or a user-design zone -- giving enormous freedoms and rights to people who do things for themselves, but very little freedom to developers who look to make money essentially by pillage.

they go on to talk about the real meat of the solution: educating the populace on patterns and then democratically applying them, but i will spare you uninterested fools the details. it would be interesting to see if this works with regards to town/city planning, and then perhaps this technique can migrate to more pressing matters -- such as corporate reform.


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