Planners would do well to listen to Tea Party activists, not because they are funded by big interests and mega huge corporations, but because they can be a counterpoint to unmitigated coercive planning. As a planner, I was not trained to impose my viewpoint on the majority, on property owners or on anyone else. My training and practice has always involved inviting all stakeholders to the table to discuss and negotiate outcomes. Planning is a give and take between differing interests and viewpoints to arrive at the best possible solution for most of the community. While not everyone can be pleased, or ever will be pleased, neither developers nor city officials have carte blanche to impose regulations or projects. Fortunately, regulations reflect agreements, or should reflect agreements between different sectors of a community. When they no longer reflect these inherent agreements, they should be changed. Closer inspection by affected individuals should lead these to determine whether community regulations matter, whether they reflect the vision of the community. When they cease to reflect the true vision of the community at large, they become coercive. It is at this point that they should be revamped, community by community. Regulations are not one-size-fits-all. They must be customized if need be.
In the spring of 1968, Jane Jacobs walked into a high school auditorium in the Lower East Side and addressed a rowdy crowd opposed to the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a 10-lane highway proposed by Robert Moses that would have blasted through what we now know as SoHo.
The public hearing was a sham, she said. The city and state officials had already made all the decisions to move ahead – they were just collecting neighborhood opinions so they could fulfill the obligation to get citizen input. After leading a defiant march in front of the transportation bureaucrats, somebody ripped up the stenotype roll and threw it in the air like confetti.
For her trouble, Jacobs was arrested for inciting a riot and driven away in a squad car. The charges were knocked down to a misdemeanor, but one of the author’s greatest legacies grew out of that night: that when it comes to our homes and communities, the power should be with the people. Citizens must be truly involved with plans and projects, not just told that proposals will be good for them and society. A generation of planners and environmentalists has grown up dedicated to the notion of civic participation.
So it is with particular angst that many of these same planners now are forced to reckon with the modern-day Jane Jacobs, at least in terms of tactics and a libertarian streak: the Tea Party.