Monthly Archives: December 2009

Growth Management: The #1 Planning Disaster

Growth management is arguably the biggest planning disaster of the last decade. Though it didn’t kill as many people as the ineptly planned war on terror, it cost far more money and led to enormous financial and social pain all over the world.

We said that growth management made land and housing more expensive (link goes to excerpt from The Vanishing Automobile). Planners denied it, even though increased land and home prices greatly contributed to their stated goals of getting a greater share of people to live in multi-family housing or on smaller lots.

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The War on Terror: A Classic Planning Disaster

Certainly one of the biggest government planning disasters of the last decade was the so-called War on Terror. Given the tragedy of 9/11, a government response was certainly called for, but the way it was handled by the Bush administration was poorly conceived from the very beginning.

Start with name: “war on terror.” Instead of treating the terrorists as criminals, we treated them as enemy soldiers, which carries with it the assumption that they work for another country. That was completely untrue, which led to all sorts of mistaken policies.

Then there was the attempt to capture Bin Laden, who supposedly planned the 9/11 attacks. While John Kerry claims that the Bush administration missed its opportunity to catch or kill him, not everyone is convinced. Still, it is clear that the administration completely lost interest in Bin Laden in its eagerness to attack Iraq.

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Rail Disasters of the Oughts

Although the Antiplanner spends a lot of blog posts ranting about rail transit, the truth is that all of the rail disasters of the last decade together did not cost nearly as much as certain other government planning disasters that the Antiplanner will cover later this week. Yet new rail transit lines can impose huge costs on local taxpayers, property owners, and — often — transit riders.

The sad fact is that rail transit takes so long to plan and build that just about any line that opened in this decade is really a result of planning that began in the 1990s or earlier. But for the purposes of this list, I mainly considered lines that opened after about 2004. This list is roughly in reverse order of the amount of net waste generated by each line or system.

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Top Planning Disasters of the Oughts

With the end of the year, many people are making top ten lists for the last decade. The Antiplanner holds the quaint notion that the first year in history was year 1, which means the last year of this decade would be 2010, not 2009. On the other hand, every year is the end of some decade or other.

In any case, 2009 is indeed the last year of a span of years whose third digit is 0, so the Antiplanner will spend the rest of this week writing about government planning disasters of this particular decade. I don’t know if the list will come to 10, but for now, I look forward to any nominations you may have.


The Worst-Managed City

Ask progressives what they think is the nation’s most-progressive city, and many are likely to mention San Francisco. Not coincidentally, the progressive SF Weekly argues that San Francisco is also the nation’s worst-managed city.

Welcome to San Francisco, where per capita budgets climb halfway to the stars.

The city spends more than $8,000 per capita, compared with less than $7,200 by New York and less than $3,000 by Philadelphia and Denver. The Weekly suggests that most of the difference is waste. (In San Francisco’s defense, San Francisco is a combined city-county government and its budget includes a lot of services, such as public transit, not included in Philadelphia or Denver budgets.)

Still, “even other liberal places wouldn’t put up with the degree of dysfunction they have in San Francisco,” says faithful Antiplanner ally Joel Kotkin. “In Houston” — which both Kotkin and the Antiplanner admire — “I assume you’d get shot” if you did so poorly.

There are a lot of problems with the city, but one of the biggest is public employees unions. Unions were probably important in providing workers with a balance against large corporations. But the potential corruption of unions with the dysfunction of government is a recipe for disaster.

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Fair-Weather Transportation

Some of the Antiplanner’s faithful allies are chortling over the closures of rail lines — advertised as “all-weather transportation” — due to snowstorms, including parts of the the Washington Metro system, the Baltimore light-rail system, and New Jersey light rail.

And don’t forget the shutdown of the Eurostar high-speed trains through the Channel Tunnel. How does weather shut down train service in a tunnel?


Make the Kiddies Pay

New York City has the greatest transit system in America. It carries a third of all transit rides, and well over half of all rail transit rides in the U.S. Fares cover close to two-thirds of its operating costs, more than any other transit system. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is what every other transit system aspires to be.


So broke that the MTA is planning “service cuts that would affect nearly every bus, subway and commuter rail rider in New York.” These include the complete elimination of two subway lines and many bus routes, along with reductions in frequencies on many other routes and cuts in services to disabled riders. These cuts are deemed necessary to close a $383 million gap in the agency’s 2010 budget — more money than the entire annual budgets of most transit agencies.

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Blame Government Mismanagement on Climate Change

People in Bolivia are going thirsty, and the New York Times blames it on climate change. But, in fact, the glaciers have been retreating for well over 100 years.

The real problem in Bolivia, as the Times admits well down the page, is that the government declared water to be a “human right” and took over the private water company. But because the government is inept, not to mention broke, it has failed to provide water to those who need it or to adjust to long-term changes in water flows.

Simply declaring something a human right doesn’t automatically mean everyone will get some. As Bremerton, Washington, blogger Keli Carender points out in the video above, someone has to pay for it.

Bolivia no doubt hopes that, by blaming the problem on climate change, it will guilt-trip wealthy nations into providing billions in foreign aid, thus compensating for its own ineptitude. If the United States nationalized health care, who are we going to guilt-trip to fund our future health costs?