[Randall] O’Toole calls himself “The Antiplanner” and publishes a Cato Institute website by that name, “Dedicated to the sunset of government planning.” He has said “it is likely that planners in our city governments will do far more harm to our personal and economic freedoms than communists in the State Department.”
O’Toole, whose background is in forestry, is most well known for his long assault on Portland, Oregon, his former home town. Although all of his claims about “failure” in Portland have been repeatedly rebutted by a variety of experts, O’Toole maintains his position.
The letter from Lanier, Weekley, and Linbeck refers to “Mr. O’Toole’s fine book about the pitfalls and the opportunities of modern urban progress.” The book warns against taking into account the public interest when planning road projects, charges that planners intentionally work to create traffic congestion and make roads more dangerous, and includes a chapter on “The Ideal Communist City.”
The issue Mayor Lanier and the others are trying to address is sustainable prosperity for the City’s future. We all want that, and need to spend a lot of civic time debating how to get there. But to base their arguments on the ideas of someone who has been discredited so many times seems ill-advised. Over the next few days and weeks we will post a series that explores a little more about O’Toole (and the few other writers who drive the road and sprawl agenda). In the process, we’ll make some distinctions between planning and regulations, and also look at the issue of housing prices and home ownership in major cities.
And more from Crossley:
Road activist Wendell Cox is being brought into Houston next week to talk to Houston City Council members on behalf of the new anti-planning effort led by former Mayor Bob Lanier, developer Richard Weekley, and construction executive Leo Linbeck, Jr. The purpose of the group, called “Houstonians for Responsible Growth,” is to stop what they call “more extensive planning and regulations” in the City of Houston.
Cox has been involved on the anti-transit side of a number of transit referenda around the country. The San Antonio Express-News said, “On point after point, his paper on sprawl is incoherent or irrelevant, making it a perfect complement to his many papers on light rail.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution calls him “A self-proclaimed (though untrained) transportation expert who makes his living writing propaganda for pro-road causes.” About Houston’s light rail line, he says “Its role is to consume money and to give the local ‘railigious’ an altar at which to burn incense.” Former Metro chair Robert D. Miller said “Cox’s arguments simply don’t make sense.”
Cox has been extensively linked to developer Michael Stevens, who led the effort to defeat the Metro Solutions plan referendum in 2003 and is a leading proponent, as chair of the Governor’s Business Council Transportation Task Force, of a massive road-building effort in Houston and the State.
Tory has a summary of what’s been said so far, and a recommendation going forward:
[T]ake advantage of the favorable political climate while we have a reasonable Mayor and city council, and while the well-respected 82-year-old Lanier is still healthy enough to engage. Come up with a comprehensive approach to how development should work here (as opposed to the current patchwork), including a set of principles and streamlined code on deed restrictions to make it easier for neighborhoods to enact consensus (i.e. super-majority) restrictions. In essence, find a free-market policy framework that makes 80% of the citizens happy and marginalizes the radical 10-20% anti-growth controllers, aesthetes, busybodies, and NIMBYs. Instead of duking it out between developers and planning advocates, find a “third-way” that acknowledges and addresses citizen concerns, but with a flexible free market approach instead of top-down comprehensive planning. Now that would be a fine and enduring legacy for Mayor White’s final term in office…
While I agree with the idea, I think the anti-planning side has its share of radicals who could do with a bit of marginalization as well. Be that as it may, I think there’s a fairly broad consensus that what we’ve got in place now needs an overhaul, and I think there’s plenty of room for people who want to come up with a workable solution to get together and find one. It looks to me like there’s no better time for that than now, so I hope to see it happen. Stay tuned.