After reading the comments to my post titled "How to Build a Country," I am left wondering if the intense backlash to "central planning" represents a valid opinion or if it is more of a psychological condition.

If it is a psychological condition, it is one I've often seen. It is the inability to distinguish between an analogy - which could be a component of a valid opinion - and something that simply reminds you of something else.

For example, if you see a bed sheet blowing in the wind on a clothesline, it might remind you of a ghost, and that would be perfectly normal. But if you think the sheet might later haunt you because of its similarity to a ghost, you probably have a psychological problem.

Likewise, when my idea of planning a city from the furniture up reminds you of Stalin and Chairman Mao, you might be suffering from a condition that just feels like an opinion to you. I want to assure you that there is no danger from Stalin, Mao, or the bed sheet. You are simply reminded of them.

Keep in mind that any newer city in this day and age is centrally planned, from the road layout to the sewer systems to the water supply. And there is always some sort of planning commission approving new construction. If you are lucky enough to live in such a planned community, you'll be happy that you can easily get from one place to another and find parking. If you live in an older city, such as Washington DC or Boston, you know it's a nightmare to get from A to B.

I've lived in three planned communities. There was an apartment complex that was planned from the ground up. There was a housing development the size of a small city. Then there was a townhouse development I lived in for several years while building the house I live in now.

Do you know what was terrible about all of those "centrally planned" communities?


The cost of the homes was probably half of what it would have cost an individual to build from scratch, and they had all the safety and convenience features you would need. I could quibble about closet space, and the availability of guest parking, but that's exactly the sort of thing you can fix with better central planning. If there were no centrally planned government building codes, developers would screw the living daylights out of home buyers who don't even know what questions to ask.

When it comes to building a home or even a modern city, central planning is how it is already done, and it is the only sensible model. The alternative to central planning is unambiguously stupid. No intelligent human believes you get a better result by letting people do whatever they want with their homes, streets, and sewage. If you do believe that, you are once again confusing the bed sheet with a ghost. Political freedom - which we all want - is not an analogy to home building. If you give people the freedom to build whatever homes they want, you don't get something awesome like democracy; you get a shantytown nightmare.

Keep in mind that the planned city I described would have numerous different models of homes, just as current developments do. And no one would be required to move to this city. It would compete with every other open society on earth as a desirable place to live.

My post on building a city from the furniture up is about better central planning. Central planning itself is a given. There is no rational alternative. I'm only suggesting that technology would allow an amazing leap in livability if we plan correctly, and I think a company such as Google would do a better job than a government entity when it comes to planning .

And if you see a bed sheet and that reminds you of a ghost, that isn't an opinion.

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Nov 5, 2013
You wrote about bedsheets and it made your readers think of ghosts. This implies two things: 1) you're not very good at writing about bedsheets, and 2) your readers are more interested in ghosts.
Nov 5, 2013
"[Thank you for your insight that a bad plan is not as good as a good plan. -- Scott] "

My insight was that centralized planning is always bad. I'm glad that I finally convinced you of that.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 5, 2013
Scott, there is a city in North Carolina named Cary. Cary was built from the ground up to be a place to *house* a lot of highly educated people working in high tech research in Research Triangle Park. The community is highly regulated, overly planned, and expanded faster than any one expected with organized housing sub developments. All houses, exterior color schemes, etc. have to be approved before being implemented.

It is completely mono chromatic. Yuppies with soccer moms who drive SUV's to the gym, Old Navy, and The Gap...which of course are the Staples of highly regulated shopping areas. Guys who wear suits and ties, have landscaping companies do the dirty work, play golf, and have no mud on their own SUV's. Two kids and a dog. OF course all white PhD's, MD's, and MBA's.

North Carolinians who live outside of Cary often display bumper stickers that say...."Find a cure for Cary!!!!"

What your experiment did not describe is whether or not each individual in the designed community can get his/her own desires....or if there is a regulating agency that enforces some majority will on all others. This makes a difference because people might be more accepting of outside mandates to the exterior if they can freely choose the interior. Of course in Cary there are only half a dozen or so house designs that the approved builders are willing to !$%*!$ So the interiors are all as much the same as the exteriors. In today's world of purchasing all kinds of small quantity specialty items that stores cannot afford to stock, Cary seems like a Dinosaur from days after WW2 with Levitown on Long Island.

Nov 5, 2013
Maybe people aren't afraid of central planning because of Stalin or Mao. Maybe they just don't like incompetence, or petty bureaucrats.

Just because a central plan works for a small city doesn't mean it will work for a large country. Human organizations don't seem to scale-up very well.

If a town designs a street plan, with sewers and water, it usually works ok. But mistakes happen, and can be fixed more easily when the scale is still small.

Now look at NYC's infrastructure. It should be a model of efficiency, using population density to maximum advantage. But the sewers are 100 years old and will cost $billions to fix.

Look at any of the nearly-bankrupt small cities in California. The roads are falling apart and they have to lay off current police and fire employees to be able to pay for the retirement plans for past employees.

Central planning has successes and failures. The main problem is that the planners will never admit mistakes, so they can't begin to fix them.
Nov 5, 2013
[I'm going to call !$%*!$%* on "Houston has no zoning laws" and I won't even bother Googling it. Can you really build a pig farm in the middle of town? -- Scott]

From businessweek.com:

"Houston is well known as the only major U.S. city with no formal zoning code. Such a seeming lack of order is difficult to grasp by those unfamiliar with the area. The absence of a comprehensive land use code conjures up images of a disjointed landscape where oil derricks sit next to mansions and auto salvage yards abut churches. To some degree these anomalies exist, yet for the most part Houston is like any other large North American city.

What is unique about Houston is that the separation of land uses is impelled by economic forces rather than mandatory zoning. While it is theoretically possible for a petrochemical refinery to locate next to a housing development, it is unlikely that profit-maximizing real-estate developers will allow this to happen. Developers employ widespread private covenants and deed restrictions, which serve a comparable role as zoning. These privately prescribed land use controls are effective because they have a legal precedence and local government has chosen to assist in enforcing them.

Some investors are understandably apprehensive about the lack of clearly defined rules. Houston developers have long recognized these concerns and have responded, particularly in suburban markets, by producing planned business and industrial parks that have rigorous covenants and deed restrictions. Not surprisingly, the sites receiving the attention of institutional investors, especially in suburban markets, tend to be in planned parks."
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 5, 2013

>>The current enthusiasm for starving the government - cutting staff, cutting salaries, cutting budgets; or firing everyone and outsourcing to the lowest bidder - will get bad central planning, not good.

When my government can't balance a budget and still expects me to keep paying their bills, they need to change their plan.

If they want me to give them a bigger line of credit, they need to stop closing the national parks first in an effort to punish me for saying, "wait a minute".

(Rather than take a bulldozer to the outdated, how do we re-use parts and make changeability part of the plan?) I think that's one difference between France or Rome and us. 800 sqft for a family of 4? Tradition?

Bad central planning causes a business to have to cut staff, cut salaries, cut budgets. If it can't adapt to suit my needs, we start again.

The point was to consider designing from my chair outward, for me. Most architects design from the pretty exterior drawing, inward. Most developers design from the boundaries inward.

What do you want yours to look like?
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 5, 2013
Scott, I see you saying two things in your comments:

1) Profit-driven corporations design homes that buyers will regret buying because they're too naive, gullible, and ignorant to know what's good for themselves.

2) Government is wise, benevolent, and free of graft, corruption, cronyism, and patronage and will result in a superior product that more intuitive, efficient, and cost-effective that solves all of life's problems.

Do you have examples? I see the exact opposite. From electronics, to education, to space flight, private industry gives better results for a fraction of the price. It will always be so; it's the nature of competition vs bureaucracy.

What is it that makes you so insistent that Government (which takes money from people) = Good; Companies (that provide money to people) = Bad?

Nov 5, 2013
er... people will screw up a plan no matter how good it is, so it's better to come up with systems that are flexible, rather than systems that are perfectly efficient.

[Thank you for your insight that a bad plan is not as good as a good plan. -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2013
"[Any good plan needs to take into account which things should be more like a guideline, or standard, versus a law. I'm saying planning is good, so let's do it better. You're saying it is possible for idiots to make stupid plans, therefore planning must be bad? -- Scott] "

You seem to be jettisoning the "central" part of your "central planning" directive for the purpose of the debate, while still supporting some monolithic authority... I agree that planning is a good thing, and I agree that good standards literally change the world. I just disagree that a central authority can be an expert in everything relevant to a country and dictate a perfect society from on high. A certain amount of inefficiency is necessary to allow for creativity, and creativity at the artisan level is where most efficiencies and advancement happens.

And ultimately, no matter how well you plan a city, some guy on the west end will fall for a girl on the east end, and they'll end up commuting back-and-forth. In fact, enough of that will happen that there will be congestion at the most obvious paths between the two sides. Someone will have to live in point A for some weird reason, and work at point B, and need to spend lunch at point C, and visit people at point D all perfectly far from each other. People will find a way to screw up any plan, no matter how good it is.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 5, 2013
"It can't be done/Shouldn't be done?" OK, I'll take the other side.

It's already being done.

My Grandmother lived in an assisted living home, apartments and hospital like rooms if needed, small kitchens and central dining rooms, a planned community. It worked for her.

My In-laws live in a Del Webb retirement community. They love it. They feel way more comfortable than where they were before. Their old neighborhood changed around them.

The difference between Del Webb and Obama? Del Webb had to make it work or he lost his shirt, his business, his money. Obama needs it to work to save face. If Webb launched his first community like Obama did, there would not have been a second.

Now, a Del Webb community is not for me. I'd want the Mountain Resort Community experience. I don't want to see or hear my neighbors from my desk. I would want 1,000 acres of forest land behind us. I'd make it easier for UPS to deliver year round and I would have put in high-speed fiber optic lines first.... I'd want Disney and Pixar to design it together. All the infrastructure hidden to maximize the user experience, and great imagination. That would be cool.
And Lamborghini. Good design before profit.

Choice is the key. You don't like that community, pick one to suit your tastes. (And that will change as you and your family grows and ages.) If someone did it poorly, you go somewhere else. The better will survive and the poor goes out of business.

Using Ford as an example backfires. Ford was the opposite of "consumer up design". I certainly wouldn't want him to design my community.

Lamborghini will paint my car to match my handbag. How consumer friendly is that?

Nov 5, 2013
Houston has no zoning laws and it functions fine - even to the extent that Forbes magazine voted it America's coolest city last year.

But I like your idea and I am fascinated by the idea of arcologies and letting architects and engineers build new kinds of communities - so I do believe that designing a city from the ground up makes a certain amount of sense. But only if the right people are doing the planning. This kind of thought process isn't new - Plato's Republic is essentially the same idea. But Plato also concluded you need the right kind of person running things to make it work.

[I'm going to call bullshit on "Houston has no zoning laws" and I won't even bother Googling it. Can you really build a pig farm in the middle of town? -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2013
Central planning and letting people build whatever they like form a continuum, not a binary choice. I think that when you talk about better central planning you are talking about finding the sweet spot on that continuum. I agree with that approach.

But finding the optimum isn't easy. Big cities in the US northeast still have big old housing projects left over from the 60s, which remind us that central planning can be well intended and still turn out miserably. The current enthusiasm for starving the government - cutting staff, cutting salaries, cutting budgets; or firing everyone and outsourcing to the lowest bidder - will get bad central planning, not good. So I think the reactions to, "centrally planned," are based on more than Stalinist bedsheets.

[Sometimes hospitals kill people accidentally, therefore we should not have hospitals. That's your argument, right? -- Scott]
Nov 5, 2013
The hardest thing when planning is attempting to anticipate the future. Narrow roads in old cities didn't anticipate the arrival of the car, etc. I think the best anticipation is flexibility. For example don't just lay internet to everyone's house. Build a system of troughs under every road which leads to a central point in every house. So when it becomes practical to provide holographic internet (or whatever it is) you don't have to dig up every road and every front drive. Just open up the trough and put the new cable in.

Obviously this is just thinking about the wiring, if we're thinking big we would somehow have a way of easily moving the houses after they are built. Need to make the street wider, no problem. Maybe this would tie in with your houses at sea idea?

[I would put most of the transportation and delivery services underground for the reasons you mention. -- Scott]
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 5, 2013
I was with you all the way this time, untill you brought up Google. Yeah, Google might plan better then a department of officials, they MIGHT (I'm wondering if you're just saying that to please the audience) but it would come with trade-offs that I don't want.
Nov 4, 2013
Scott, as I understood your post, you wanted to thrust what you felt was an optimal design for a kitchen on me in my home. Proceeding from there, you went on to design an entire city around it. If the kitchen itself was not exactly what I wanted, it is unlikely that much else will also be. No wonder it felt like communism to me.
Maybe I misunderstood.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 4, 2013
Computers are good with logic. Apparently people aren't. Maybe Scott you need to develope a computer that can objectively tell us if an idea is logical or the result of a "psychological condition"

My biggest problem with the idea of building a city from the ground up is that our lame societies so very very rarely do build new cities. All the cities in Australia where I am from were started well opver 100 years ago - and thats in a 'young country' with lots of unused space; people don't build new cities these days, its too expensive and time consuming, they just add on to existing ones. They should build new cities...
Nov 4, 2013
Sometimes when you see a piece of rope it might remind you of a poisonous snake. That doesn't mean it is a poisonous snake, but you might want to find out before you treat a poisonous snake like a piece of rope.

It sounds like yesterday people were treating a piece of rope like a poisonous snake, hacking it to little bits with a hoe, and never really understanding, even after the fact, that they just hacked up a piece of rope. The Internet is littered with rope pieces. You'll also find that many snakes on the Internet are left alone. I guess they aren't rope-like enough to be considered a snake.

Not sure if anyone mentioned it yesterday, but you don't need to plan from the furniture up. Houses aren't self-contained, but the interfaces are pretty well defined: electric, water, sewer, gas, cable, telephone, sidewalk, driveway, etc. With well-defined interfaces that are considered in central planning as well as house planning, neither the house nor the central need to know any more about each other.
Nov 4, 2013
"When it comes to building a home or even a modern city, central planning is how it is already done"


"Existing homes aren't optimized for home offices, dog ownership, recreation, or any number of things I built into my home."

Central planning for thee, but not for me.

Tell me, why aren't existing homes already optimized for these things? Central planning is fabulous, but everybody is doing it wrong, and you're here to tell us how it's done? Thanks! Your largesse is unbounded.

Or maybe you're good at planning what *you* want, but others should plan what *they* want. More planning, not less!

[Current housing developments are optimized for the builder's profit. So they are designed for an initial wow factor, as in "Look at that huge foyer that is wasting space and that formal living room I will never use that is furnished with great stuff my cat would ruin!" A home designed for humans as opposed to corporations would look quite different. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
Unlike living in planned communities in the UK where the mantra is 'Hate the car, cram as many houses into the smallest space for the maximum profit and make the walls so thin you can hear your neighbours breathing.

[When the government plus a developer do all the planning you get shitty homes that look good when walk through them and you don't realize they will cost a fortune to heat and cool and there are no closets. You don't want developers taking the lead. -- Scott]
Nov 4, 2013
Centralized planning is not necessarily a bad thing. Using force, as opposed to voluntary means, to implement and enforce central planning is - for both moral and utilitarian reasons.

[It's not central planning if anyone can choose to ignore it. -- Scott]
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