The term Planning is a very general one. There are city and town planners and also corporate planners. The Pentagon employs numerous military planners. The launching of a space shuttle is the culmination of a tremendously complex and sophisticated planning process. And so on.
Planning in its generic meaning, then, is a ubiquitous activity. All types of planning have a conscious effort in common to systematically improve the quality of decision making. The planning discussed in this book is a very small part of the total planning activity in the United States. Specifically, this book focuses on public planning at the substate level, that done by and for cities, counties, towns, and other units of local governments. We will also examine, much more briefly, planning for metropolitan regions, the states, and the question of national planning. One chapter contains a brief survey of planning in other nations.
The reader who has sampled other books on planning will notice that this book has some particular emphases, specifically on politics, economics, ideology, law, and the question of winners and losers in particular decisions. These emphases stem from my experience as a working planner. I entered planning in 1969 with a background in economics and journalism but with no specific training in planning. I assumed that if architects planned buildings, then city and town planners planned cities and towns in a similar way; in effect, I thought it was architecture writ large.
It did not take me long to learn that I was wrong. Planning is a highly political activity. It is immersed in politics, and inseparable from the law. The ultimate arbiter of many a planning dispute is the court. And for every case that comes to court, many planning decisions are conditioned by what the participants in the process think would be the decision if the matter did come to court.
Planning decisions often involve large sums of money, both public and private. Even when little public expenditure is involved, planning decisions can deliver large benefits to some and large losses to others. Thus one must understand something of the economic and financial issues at stake.
The study of planning quickly takes one into ideology. Planning issues and controversies inevitably raise questions about the proper role of government and the line between public needs and private rights. What properly is to be a matter of political decision, and what properly should be left to the market? Planners are a fairly idealistic lot and often enter the field to serve the public interest. After immersion in a few public controversies, the beginning planner may wonder whether there is such a thing as the public interest, for if there is, there ought to be some general agreement among the public on what it is. But one can spend a long time in some areas of planning without seeing a single instance of this agreement.
I have tried to convey something of the reality of planning practice and of what goes on under the surface of events. I hope that the reader will not find this reality disillusioning, for planning in an open and a democratic society cannot be smooth and simple. Planning as it is—involved in political controversy, tied to legal and economic questions, and connected to issues of ideology—is far more interesting than it would be if it were simply architecture writ large.
The book contains a certain amount of material on history and technology because the issues which planning focuses on are largely ones that political, social, demographic, and economic changes bring to the forefront.
The best and most effective planners are those with good peripheral vision—those who not only have mastered the technical side of planning but also understand the relationships between planning issues and the major forces in the society around them. I have endeavored to write a text consistent with that view.