Dana French’s Aug. 20 letter is unconvincing in its apologetics for “vision” plans. The whole notion of a city of many tens of thousands of diverse and independent-minded people having a single “vision” for the future is absurd except at the level of trite generality. We can share a “vision” I’m sure of being healthier, more prosperous, more tolerant, more mobile, more secure, better educated, greener, and such like. And we can encourage the engaged citizens — maybe a thousand or so out of 75,000 — to flesh this out with their wish lists of programs and projects they think would be nice to have someone else pay for.

But the notion that this procedure provides the basis for good planning, as Mr. French implies, is fanciful. First with a tiny and biased citizen participation it is unrepresentative. Second the vast majority of the decisions that shape the city’s future are — fortunately — beyond the control of city government anyway. Housing development is driven by the housing people buy or rent — primarily determined by people’s incomes, their preferences, and trade-offs between housing and other uses for their time and money. How people get around is also mostly a matter of private preference. Every strategic plan in living memory has called for getting people out of their cars and into transit, and at the end of every plan transit usage has declined, and king car is even more dominant.

The jobs created here are mainly the result of investors and independent nonprofit decisions to create, expand or contract businesses. And their decisions are based on their assessment of the changing market, the skills they see here and the costs they face, all compared with alternative opportunities elsewhere.

The notion of strategic city planning avoids the reality that a city is something that evolves from the bottom up as a result of millions of individual decisions and accommodations made in a market economy day by day, month by month, and year by year. It is inherently unplannable.

City government can, up to a point, constrain what happens. It can tax. It can stop things. Even in a free society, people can exert political pressure on city government to change its constraints by rezoning, and otherwise changing city policies. Hopefully the competition of representative elected government will year by year bear on city spending and taxing. City politics itself plays out with little regard for what gets written into long-term plans.

Contrary to Mr. French it was a veteran city planner and NYU professor, Alain Bertaud, not me, who described these 10-year city plans as a useless “fossil” left over from an era of enchantment with top-down governance. Like “branding” and new logos, I submit that strategic planning is a distraction from city government doing a better job of what it has to do — which is efficiently managing and planning our roads, water, sewage and drainage, and our parks, good policing and collecting the trash. Vision or strategic plans so-called for 2030 or 2040 are an escapist fantasy and a distraction from city government attending to immediate needs in the limited area under its control.

Peter Samuel


(20) comments


Plans do not replace government or day to day planning, but they can be useful in forming public support for a shared vision of the future. I question Mr. Samuel and wonder what he really wants to do that will not be in the plan. So far, we know he does not like hotels or moves to help downtown businesses. What next to ax?


Mr Brooks: I want City government to focus on what City government can and should do -- look after the roads and streets, police city law, collect the trash etc. Doing that well and at reasonable cost to taxpayers is challenging enough. I don't want them sponsoring a hotel and lobbying for county and state funds for a crony insider. And they shouldn't be in the 'vision' business either. It's nonsense and a distraction from doing their job.


I can see good reason to ask our city government to be 'back to basics." Do that right, and other good things will follow. But who is this "crony insider?" Mr. Cohen is the one with a paid lobby in Annapolis. Other cities manage their planning and future and do it quite well. Or do you prefer Houston, Texas with no zoning and one big mess? Frequent floods with no good place for the water to go is just one example of the problems Houston has.


Mr. Samuel shares the same problem that all dilletantes must overcome. They must read more than one book about a topic before presuming expert knowledge. Puerile opinions, even when proficiently albeit self-indulgently expressed, never extend beyond the trivial.




Howard County to rewrite development regulations after nearly 40 years.

You should have started when they started. It’s worked out pretty well for them. Long range Planning and Zoning can be achieved successfully, as they have proved.



I don’t always agree with your opinions Peter, but I do respect them, and you challenging one to think... You have well thought out criticisms in your views. Like.


Dana French - Captain United States Navy 1955 – 1990 35 years

Surface Warfare Officer

Commanded three afloat commands

Commanded a Recruit Training Command

Dean of Faculty & Academic Programs, Industrial College of the Armed Forces

Designed & developed the Navy's centralized leadership program for all officers and enlisted personnel

Created the Navy's Organization Development Consulting Program


Mr French has a distinguished US Navy background and qualifications as you document, DickD. On a navy ship survival can depend on unquestioning obedience to commands, so Mr French's approach to building leadership is essential. I submit however that a city is almost the opposite of a navy ship in that it can't and shouldn't be commanded. A city is a product of millions of independent initiatives. City government is there to serve the people, not to command them or 'lead' them. Knowing Mr French's background I can see why he gets city planning so wrong.




If our city does not have direction, it will likely go places we do not want. Direction and planning are good, but hopefully our leaders have some vision to be begin with, and those visions are why they ran for office.


Good LTE petersamuel.


in a real market economy, we'd be asking those who lived here and left what made them leave, what was great, what was a problem. That would be an interesting read to begin planning from. Did quality of life decline? Traffic make you leave? Jobs lost? Annexation and building plans ill conceived? Would you visit or be close enough to enjoy the City? Commute change? etc.


I would rather ask people coming what brought them here.


That's like the JD Power customer survey you get a few days after buying a new car shiftless. It's all rosy at first until things go wrong. To get an accurate picture, you need both incoming and exit interviews.


Meh; they are two different things. People may be leaving in small numbers for the exact same reason the people are coming here for in larger numbers. People do not like change so anytime there is a change, even if it might be a good thing for the county as a whole, people will leave.


Some see the forest. Some see the trees. Either way reveals the comfort level with feeling powerless and insignificant.


In my small home, I have all the power and significance that I need. And my spouse and our pup. That works.


But very wrong


Very well articulated.

Farrell Keough

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