Think back (if you are old enough) to 1970 and imagine you were then asked to write a plan for America for 2010. In 1970, you wouldn’t have known about personal computers, and so you probably wouldn’t expect that the number of people working at home in 2010 would be growing faster than the number of people riding transit to work.
In 1970 you wouldn’t have known about the Internet and FedEx (which began in 1973), and so you probably wouldn’t have predicted that many people in 2010 would shop from home and have their goods delivered to them by truck. (In 1970, for those who don’t remember, UPS home deliveries were rare.)
In 1970, the private railroads still operated passenger trains and the airlines hadn’t been deregulated yet so airfares were mainly at wealthy and business travelers. So you probably wouldn’t have predicted the doubling in per capita air travel or that air travel would be one-fourth the cost, per passenger mile, of passenger trains.
In 1970, there were no WalMarts outside of Arkansas, there were no club wholesale stores, and the organic food movement was in its infancy. So you couldn’t have predicted the revolutions in consumer product production and distribution that would transform the retail industry by 2010.
In 1970, the big urban problem was air pollution, and most planners believed the solution was to get people out of their cars and onto transit. So you probably wouldn’t have predicted that the air pollution problem would be largely solved by improved auto technologies, nor that hundreds of billions of dollars in public subsidies to transit would do anything but slow the decline in per capita transit ridership from about 50 trips per urban resident in 1970 to 44 today.
Given these and many other examples of our inability to predict the future, the Antiplanner has to wonder why anyone would think that it makes sense to try to write a 2050 plan for America. But, given that we have planners, naturally we have people who want to plan no matter how insane the idea.
The 2050 plan will be heavily oriented around megaregion, of which there are supposedly ten (a suspiciously round number). Jane Jacobs once defined a â€œregionâ€ as â€œan area safely larger than the last one to whose problems we found no solution.” And a megaregion is safely larger than the regions for whose problems we found no solution.
The 2050 plan will also be based on high-speed rail, even though high-speed trains will never carry more than 1 or 2 percent of passenger travel and virtually no freight. So basically the plan is to build infrastructure that few people will use to serve megaregions that don’t really exist and ignore things that really count, not to mention the things we can’t predict.
According to page 19 of the prospectus, America 2050 is a project of the Regional Plan Association, which formed many decades ago to write a regional plan for New York City. I guess they consider that a success because now they want to write a plan for the rest of us. It fits, because after all the goal of smart growth is to turn the rest of America into New York — cramped housing in multifamily dwellings or on small lots, congested highways, and financially strapped transit systems.
Page 18 notes that America 2050 also has the usual supporting cast, including representatives of Smart Growth America, Portland’s Metro, Parsons Brinckerhoff, university planning professors, and various other planning advocates. With there help, our future will be one of unaffordable housing, reduced personal mobility, high taxes (or inflation) to pay for all the rail lines, slow economic growth, and increased poverty. I think we can just say no.