The Market vs. Agenda 21: Who is Right?

 

City planners' vision of Shanghai in 2020 at t...
City planners' vision of Shanghai in 2020 at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why Planners Need to Take Agenda 21 Criticism More Seriously – Neighborhoods – The Atlantic Cities.

One of the indelible lessons learned in my nearly two decades living in China is that deferring to pure market forces and eschewing urban master planning is as much a pathway to unlivable cities as is overplanned municipal development. Surprisingly for a country built around central planning, the concept of “zoning,” much less sustainability, seems alien to Chinese city planners.

(We also joke bitterly about the design of highways here, suggesting that perhaps the roadways were designed by planners who had never actually driven a car. But I digress.)

Resistance to planning per se is thus wrongheaded, but the belief that there is a single set of rules to govern the development of urban and suburban areas seems equally out of touch with reality. It was thus with interest that I read The Atlantic‘s take on Agenda 21.

The failures to understand how planning may better utilize market frameworks in seeking sustainability, or how planning endeavors may be expressed in language appealing to conservatives, represent an egregious error.

Amen.

The takeaway here is simple: we need to find a healthy middle ground between prescriptive planning and market forces. Taking an ideological stance either way is going to lead us to trouble.

The UN’s Agenda 21 bureaucrats and many professors of urban planning will be no happier with this than major developers. Tough. Development that serves the city, the state, and the country comes not out of boardrooms nor bureaucracies, but from a balanced interplay between the two that is ultimately moderated by common sense.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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