Monday, June 22, 2009

Metro Planning Is Not Exactly a Rational Animal on May Town Center

By the power of a model, the specialist turns the future into a greenhouse of fantasies.
- - Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

Nearly a year ago the Planning Department had the audacity not just to recommend the May Town Center proposal to the Planning Commission without the benefit of neutral traffic and economic impact studies, but to admit publicly that they did not conduct the studies because they did not have enough money to pay for them. Instead, they made their recommendation based only on the quixotic projections of the MTC developers, who also market their product like carnival barkers.

This year, the Planning staffers received two neutral studies, which seemed split in judging the feasibility of the MTC model as planned. But they seemed to accept implicitly MTC developers arguments that historical and archaeological surveys of the parcels had already been conducted, even though two historical commission heads and one state archaeologist insist that they were never contacted. Yet, even while making collaboration with these researchers a priority, the Metro planners gave MTC developers' model a ringing, enthusiastic (and highly subjective) endorsement.

Still and all, the single most irksome act of Metro planning staffers in the recommendation of May Town Center to the Commissioners was to judge public opponents harshly by intimating that the latter are irrational, cynical, conniving, and unobjective:
From the initial presentation by the developer and with the previous proposal for development of the site, the community dialogue has focused on the fundamental issue of whether any significant development at this location should be approved. Issues related to transportation have been researched and analyzed. Issues related to preservation have been widely discussed and understood. Issues related to economic development and regionalism have been presented. As a result, staff strongly believes that the community is polarized to the point that it is difficult, if not impossible, to meaningfully and rationally discuss any other planning and community development issues that may be desired until such time as the Planning Commission and Council resolve the issue of whether or not a development of this magnitude will be approved. Realistic and appropriate resolution of secondary issues is currently so wrapped up in positioning on both sides to support their positions that objective communication toward a desirable solution is not possible. While there do remain issues that need to be addressed, staff believes that adoption of the staff recommendations will address the most critical impacts of the proposal while, if approved, allowing ongoing opportunities for resolution of remaining issues through the planning process once a decision has been reached.
What is clear to me in this staff recommendation is that Metro planners are convinced that they have been the reasonable, rational, disinterested (or less self-interested), and objective parties in this discussion. This also seems to me like the classic contempt of a supercilious courthouse elite toward common citizens who desire to claim a seat at the table where the Bells Bend pie is being cut up and doled out to other nobles and aristocrats.

But whether you agree or not with my own admittedly populist interpretation of what planners are suggesting about you and me in their recommendation, there remains a hypocrisy that should not be missed. Planners seem to have the sheer audacity, the unmitigated gall, the brash cheekiness to call their own approach objective, neutral, and otherwise reasonable after endorsing MTC developers blindly with no independent data and while promoting the MTC concept near-sightedly even though developers have been caught being dishonest about surveys of sensitive burial sites.

How do these planners have any credible leg to stand on when they accuse the masses of undermining meaningful and rational discussion? I don't claim to have a comprehensive grasp of rationality, but in my book, appeals to reason in Metro Planning itself seem convenient and contrived. Hence, they're as likely to give rise to fantasies as they are reasoned and balanced recommendations.

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