Preface

Writers need to have thick skins because any published thought will find readers who agree or disagree. To be honest, writers want both. The worst outcome for a writer is that the reader does neither out of boredom. So I write to elicit an intellectual and an emotional response of some kind. Hopefully, you will find thoughts here you can agree and disagree with. All I ask of you, the reader, is an open mind and for you to suspend your personal bias momentarily.

I need to note that writing is my avocation and not my vocation. As a working planner, I make it a professional practice to keep my personal beliefs to myself. In other words, I don't interject my ideas into the planning process where I work. I believe my job is to professionally facilitate, and not personally participate in, the public policy process of planning done for what Daniel Kemmis calls the "citizens of a place."

I became a member of the American Planning Association (APA) when  it was created in 1978 and was a member of its predecessor the American Institute of Planning (AIP). However, some members of the venerable APA institution would say I am not a very good planner -- and for good reason. I am a contrarian. Over the years I came to realize that professional planners, like economists, are a modern innovation.

The history of the late 1800s and early 1900s chronicles a long list of great public achievements in terms of constructing bridges, parks, canals, subways and buildings. Every profession wants its contributions recognized and in an era of increased specialization planners wanted to be recognized. American history recognizes the engineer Major Pierre L'Enfant for designing Washington, D.C. in the late 1700s. Then there was the landscape architect, Fredrick Law Olmsted, who designed New York's Central Park in 1858. However, I personally think it was the media attention given to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright's life and work, followed by Ayn Rand's book "The Fountainhead" (1943), and finally the movie of the same name starring Gary Cooper (1949) that drove the planners into a fury of professional envy.* Whatever the reason, planners pushed hard to get recognized.

But in time I began to question who we were and what we were doing. Understand that I believe in the planning profession. I just don't always agree with where we are going. I am perfectly happy being the H.L. Menken of urban planners. Alistair Cooke said of Menken that he wrote in order "...to lay in all the worldly wisdom of a police lieutenant, a bartender, a shyster lawyer, and a midwife." I should be so gifted.

As planning professionals, we have lost much of the literary arts in what we write. We have sacrificed original thought in the name of "political correctness." Quite frankly, there are too many sanctimonious planners that treat planning more as a religious calling, than as an art form. I exist for such people. Menken described such people as "...one who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup."

I also believe in what is called the continuing dialectic. New urbanist Andres Duany, who I have had several lively debates with, talks a lot about the importance of the dialectic. This is defined as "discussion and reasoning by dialogue as a method of intellectual investigation" or as "the art of arriving at the truth through the process of thesis, antithesis and finally synthesis." It was developed by the 19th century philosopher Hegel.

Planners arguing about the functionality of planning versus the psychology of it is no different than artists arguing the stylistic differences between realist and impressionist painters. Neither argument devalues the painter's or planner's work. In fact, the argument enhances the intellectual understanding of their work.

Artists, writers and architects understand the intellectual value of the continuing dialectic. I started my working career in an architect's office and I am a writer, so these experiences have framed my intellectual approach to issues. Most planners utilize a different model which is less confrontational, and is built on consensus and facilitation. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

If you read what I write, then you will find satire, irony, sarcasm, parody, criticism and hopefully humor. However, some may say it is simply arrogance, bombast and demagoguery. Either way, it's me. In Faust, Goethe says, "Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live." I know how I want to live.

I started writing about land use planning in 1985 and my views have changed over time. So you will find some philosophical inconsistencies between essays. This publication is a work in progress like my own life. Hopefully, I am making progress. This is also the reason that I have also published Common Sense on the Internet. I will be adding to it as time goes by.

* The American Planning Association's top six "most significant planning pioneers" are: Daniel Burnham (architect), Lewis Mumford (writer and editor), Fredrick Law Olmsted, Sr. (landscape architect), Ian McHarg (landscape architect), Kevin Lynch (architect) and Alfred Bateman (lawyer). 

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Carson Essays
by Richard H. Carson
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