planning is a waste of time?

My life has changed a little bit since the last time I posted, and I have bit more free time to dedicate to thinking and understanding why I do the things I do.  It’s something we should all repetitively take stalk in.  It’s not to say I don’t know what I want out of my life, but rather I want to continue to check and recheck my motives, and as the trajectory of my life continues to launch, I’m adjusting rightly.

So, as many of you know, I’m still doing the City and Regional Planning schtick.  For my first year I did well grade-wise, and I enjoy my internship.  But as the year progressed I began to think to myself “why is it that I do this work?”  I started to really dig into the question as a result of my Planning Theory class, and just my own rumination on the topic.

After watching plenty of college students languish in the “why-am-I-here-why-do-I-need-to-care-about-college” thing (which, for the record, I think at 18 is okay), I think coming to graduate school I should know.  After all, I have $40,000+ riding on it, and don’t want to waste my money.

I want to start posting these thoughts online because I’m hoping some of you that:

  1. Do the Jesus thing
  2. Do the Planning thing
  3. Do both
  4. Do neither

may have some insight into these things.  So I’ll throw some ideas out there, I’ll hope for some feedback, and I’ll keep moving on.  Let me say that I’m trying on some levels to be critical so that in the next year when I walk away I have a powerful reason why CRP is important, and why I should always be doing the work.  Furthermore, I’m also try to throw out as many ideas.  Those of you who may read this, please don’t take offence to what I’m saying.  I guess the bigger issue of that is if you take offense to this, you need to maybe grow some thicker skin because a planning board will probably eat you alive.

Here’s the first thing I’ve come to realize:

I think most of the reasons why Planning is worth anything are lousy.  I think 75% they don’t hold water.  For instance, there’s an aesthetic argument (Planners exist to make things look nice).  I think this is not a great argument for a couple reasons:800px-Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs_svg

  1. Post-Modernity: How, in our current culture, can I say one development is nicer than another?  How does it look better?  Relativism makes it substantially harder for me as a planner to say “density is great” and for you to agree.
  2. Free Market forces: If the free market is left unabated, won’t it eventually make the right decsion?  People won’t buy houses they don’t want.  This should, as resources become more scarce and people begin to not afford certain housing types, lead to quality affordable housing.
  3. Value Added: This is something I mentioned in an essay I wrote for class, that Planning is at worst simply Value Added work.  We do nothing necessary to life.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would seem to put planning as a “Self-Actualization” activity… if we are an aesthetic profession, we make things nicer.  People will being to secure themselves (ie posit #2).

At the worst, I think planners are the plastic surgeons of the policy/design world: we know the things that make us good doctors – hell, we went to the school and got the degree – but we’re more concerned about vanity most of the time, excluding that feel-good junket we take for people that are poorer than us and fix their housing version of cleft palates.

So that’s all I got time for right now, but I welcome all the comments and criticisms of this idea.

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