Planners Plan


It’s in the job title: Planner.

Most government planners — pretty much the transport and housing sectors are what we are discussing today — became planners to meet their personal need to impose order on chaos, to improve society, and, in theory, help everyone even if they need a nudge or two along the way.

Reaching the ethereal heights of the industry is not easy but once there the amount of power one holds is surprisingly significant and relatively unaccountable. In other words, there is a world of difference between the guy behind the counter at City Hall telling you your hot tub has to be ten feet from the fence line, not eight, and the people who speak at conferences and run massive bureaucracies.

One thing the higher ups have in common, it seems, is that the urge to PLAN becomes stronger the more elevated one becomes.

If you know one of those folks, buy them a beer or five and you will probably here about how great Europe and China plan their existence, how private cars are the bane of the nation, how they don’t understand why people want a single family home with a yard (they’ll say this while attending a backyard BBQ, by the way,) and how the world would be better if left to them, the experts.

So why does this commonality exist? Three main reasons: the heavy-on-the-public-use education they receive, the professional reinforcement they receive (no one became a top government official by always saying “sure, why not?” to the public,) and because they have self-selected for the career. As noted above, the need to plan for others, to plan communities is baked into their personalities.

Not that all planners are evil and there are aspects, particularly very local like zoning and not having houses touch so they don’t light each other on fire and such that really do benefit everyone.

But, nonetheless, the planning urge exists and can unleash untold damage on a community if allowed to.

The most famous planner in the United States was Robert Moses — he built parks and public beaches throughout metropolitan New York that are were wondrously forward-looking and remain incredibly popular to this day.

But he also literally destroyed neighborhoods as he pushed his car-centric view involving freeways and overpasses and bridges — those are great, too — and emphasized public housing — an unmitigated cultural disaster — as a replacement.

Read the rest of this piece at The Point.

Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at You can read more of his work at

Photo: courtesy The Point