“Planning” has been a dirty word in American politics for decades. For the hard-line right, planning destroyed freedom: it was the “road to serfdom.” Anti-planners also thought it a failure; for them the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was due to “central planning.” But without public planning, who is in charge? Lobbyists who represent the private planning of the great corporations. The public interest ceases to exist, and the public sector becomes nothing more than a trough at which private interests come to feed.
What the government needs most today is to regain an independent capacity to think. The government needs a way to imagine the future that is not dominated by lobbies or even by Congress so long as Congress is dominated by lobbies. Planning is a process: thinking, coordination, action. What is the long-term national interest? What specific targets must be met? What is the best way to do it, and who plays what role? …
Markets do not design new systems—new patterns of transport and housing, new technologies for electric power, for vehicles, for heating and cooling. To design a system, to put the pieces together, to identify the most promising lines of attack and take steps to achieve them: that is the planner’s role.
My PhD is in urban planning, so many might think I’m a proponent. But I’m more than just a little bit worried about planned solutions. Much of the time I find myself argeeing with Jane Jacob’s views on the subject – planning is a poor second to complex, self-organizing processes. And our economy, society, politics, and geography are surely a lot more complicated and complex than in her time. I’d like to believe that government can become independent of lobbyists and regain its independent capacity to think, but the realist in me asks: Is that really possible under our current system?