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February 19, 2004


Jon Ihle

For the most part I, too, support what you call 'the voluntary nature of social interaction'. It's probably wise, however, to take into consideration the practical limitations of this ideology when applied on a mass scale, as in cities. When talking about real public goods, like transport infrastructure, which we all use and/or benefit from, government (ideally) becomes an instrument for collective action that would otherwise be impossible on an individual basis. Sure, the aggregate choices of millions of people ultimately will yield, say, the best price to quality ratio for consumables, but I have a hard time believing that the same process will be able to not only figure out the best place to run a subway line, but how to fund, build and maintain it.

Luckily, we aren't limited to speculating about this. Compare the chaotic outcome of Dublin's individualistic 'planning' to the elegance and ease of centrally planned Barcelona or Cologne (to name a similar-sized city). Or compare getting around New York to getting around LA. I lived in Philadelphia for a couple of years and can report that William Penn's urban development plan from over 300 years ago has made for a very liveable city, which is a lot more than I can say for the laissez-faire madness of its suburbs.

Frank McGahon

I think the point of the book is to try and address some of these concerns. Despite your assertion, Dublin is planned, it's just planned badly in a lot of cases. LUAS is a fiasco that could only arise as a result of cackhanded bureacratic central planning. It's by no means certain that the market couldn't provide something more responsive and efficient despite the scale.

I don't wish to denigrate such excellent examples of town planning as Barcelona's Cerda plan, Manhattan, or Philadelphia. The problem is more to do with the planning mentality, and certainly as it has evolved, presuming to foresee every need, far beyond simple urban design layouts.


Hi Frank. I'm entering an RIBA ideas competition 'Future House London', and proposing to 're-urbanise' one of the estates where I live. I'm looking at as many 'anti-socialist' sources as I can (Theodore Dalrymple's 'Life at the Bottom' is great). This book (TVC) sounds quite relevant. Any suggestions for others?


Frank McGahon

Nothing springs to mind straightaway but I'll have a think about it...

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