David Brooks: Planners are dreamless robots who STILL don’t understand Americans

Rocky Mountain High

Rocky Mountain High

While usually a sharp-minded critic of those wacky liberals, David Brooks has once again stepped into nonsense land (like when he backed McCain), to take up his occasional habitat of demonizing planners.  His latest editorial stretches to interpret a Pew Research study.  Brooks implies that the economic crisis has planners salivating at the thought of cramming people into high-rise apartments and generally making them enjoy life less, while the Pew study reveals (shockingly) that this is STILL not true!  Americans, in fact, still want it all, especially if it is on the other side of the fence.

Daniel Nairn from Discovering Urbanism says it best:

The trouble with building a case out of survey results of what people want is that, in real life, we cannot always get what we want. There are trade-offs, and the true test of a value system lies in what you are willing to give up to achieve your ideal. Do I want the 6000 sq. ft. palace or a 400 sq. ft. apartment? Uh … I’ll take the palace. I’d like there to be a wilderness preserve surrounding me, and I want to be within a 10 minute trip to healthy grocery stores. It would be nice if I could walk there. And I’m all for social equality and environmental sustainability too.

As Nairn goes on to explain, planners must deal with the world of reality AND the sometimes fantastical desires of its residents, including traffic, property rights disputes, environmental trade-offs and militant interest groups.  Individual desires rarely hold sway in planning decision-making, especially in dense urban areas.

I’ll leave it to others to tell Brooks the obvious, which is that places like Denver, Portland, and Seattle are not bastions of transit-hating, SOV-tripping rural Americans.  These are urban and rapidly urbanizing places.

Some other smart commentary can be had at Joe Urban and Streetsblog, who calls Brooks “the nation’s most famous sprawl apologist”.