The Good Idea Fairy has taken possession of Bend’s planning office. The Bend Central District Multimodal Mixed-Use Area Project, hereafter known as the MMA, is the latest manifestation of her presence. The MMA is a redevelopment scheme intended to change an area that is bounded to the west by the parkway, to the east by Fourth Street and that stretches north from the Third Street underpass to Revere into something that mimics Portland’s Pearl District.
The plan that the planning office commissioned the Angelo Planning Group of Portland to prepare is one that incorporates virtually all the ideas currently fashionable among city planners. Past experience proves that the MMA, as is the case with every other similar scheme, will prove, once it is executed, expensive, disruptive and much worse than the conditions it was intended to improve upon.
The MMA, by the admission of its proponents, is designed to increase congestion and crowding. It is Bend’s opportunity to experience something euphemistically known as “smart growth.” The MMA will turn Third Street into a bottleneck that will particularly inconvenience trucks traveling east on U.S. Highway 20. The Bend planning office and Angelo Planning have glossed over this negative effect.
The de facto intent of the MMA is to drive out established businesses for the benefit of the ones favored by Bend’s Planning Office and Angelo Planning Group. What evidence is there that they have been endowed with special insight that entitles them to make such choices, particularly since they will harm the existing businesses, several of which have been located there for decades? Higher densities result in higher infrastructure costs. The Planning Office and Angelo do not address where the money will come from to pay these costs. The MMA is yet another exercise in central planning by government bureaucrats.
The problem with central planning by government bureaucrats is that their schemes never deliver what they promise, and that sooner or later they fail.
Juniper Ridge is a local example of the disappointing results that are typical of these grand planning schemes. Downtown Eugene still has yet to entirely recover from its redevelopment during the early ’70s. The Pearl District has become the playground for the very wealthy. It is inhabited primarily by “trustistas” (trust fund recipients who have migrated from California and the East Coast), two-income families and highly paid public officials and employees. The jobs it has created are among the lowest-paying positions in Oregon — waiters, cooks, house cleaners, laundry workers, beauticians and low-paid salespersons at high-priced shops.
The Kelo Case illustrates the harm done to neighborhoods by planning schemes such as the MMA. Planning schemes such as the MMA give bureaucrats the power to magnify the impact of bad decisions to an extent that is not possible for individuals.
One of the most important reasons why planning doesn’t work is the “planning delusion.” It is based on the premise that planning is needed because the market doesn’t work. The delusion is that, since the market doesn’t work, then government planning must work better. This delusion has extraordinary implications.
First, if government planning works better than the market, then anything that planners come up with must be right. This is probably why planners are so susceptible to confusing their ideals with facts. Second, if anything planners come up with is right, then it would be folly to let individuals do something different. So rather than rely on market tools to implement their plan, planners inevitably use coercion and regulation.
Finally, when they find that their initial regulations fail to work as intended, planners usually respond by developing ever more restrictive rules. The results are more and more unintended consequences, and people develop more and more creative ways to avoid the rules. The planning impulse is fundamentally totalitarian.
Bend is best served by discarding the Angelo Planning Group’s plan now rather than attempting to correct it later.
— John Driscoll lives in Bend.