Planning Versus the Central Planner

You can tell a lot about a person by what he chooses to complain about. Critics of Houston’s lack of zoning stand as an example. They claim that Houston has developed without a plan. What they are really denouncing is the fact that Houston has developed without a central planner.

Complexes like Greenway Plaza, the Galleria, the Medical Center, and the Energy Corridor did not magically spring up. Rice Military and Midtown were not re-developed with the wave of a wand. These projects, and countless others, took meticulous planning. But that planning was done by private individuals and businesses, and that is what critics of Houston despise.

These critics believe that unless all Houstonians are marching to the same plan, then no plan exists. They believe that unless everyone is working to achieve some government defined vision, then no vision exists.

In truth, Houston’s development has been guided by millions of plans and visions. Each individual has his own plan and vision. Through the lack of zoning, Houston has protected the freedom of its residents to pursue their personal plans and visions. The critics resent the fact that Houstonians have this freedom.

To understand this, consider the nature of zoning. Under zoning, all land use is controlled by government officials. An individual may not use his land by right—as he chooses—but only as permitted by zoning bureaucrats. And if your desired land use does not conform with the central plan, you will be denied permission to use it.

It is bad enough that some individuals desire a central authority to plan and dictate their lives. It is a monstrous evil to seek to force others to sacrifice their personal ambitions and submit to that authority.

2 comments to Planning Versus the Central Planner

  • James

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with zoning: it’s all about ownership. If you are required to ask permission to do something with property, it’s not yours, simple as that. And given the way the permitting process works in this country, it’s not a question of asking permission, but of begging and bribing. A worker asking permission to use some company property has some humanity–the request can be granted or denied, but the person walks up as a human being to ask. If they are required to pay for the privilege of asking they’re a slave.

    Then there’s the issues of regulatory capture, where companies use the weapons the Left provides (environmental regulations, safety regulations, zoning laws, etc) to preclude competition. Wal-Mart can spend a few million dollars bribing politicians–I’m sorry, applying for permits–while a mom-and-pop store simply can’t. So not only do zoning laws turn us into slaves of the city planners, they also ensure that we remain slaves by drastically curtailing our economic activities. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. The bitter irony is that the Left is also opposed to large corporations, which their policies in practice make the only viable business model!

    • Brian Phillips

      I agree with you. This illustrates what happens when people don’t think in principles. They see a problem, propose some regulation, and when new problems develop, seek further regulations. They think that regulations can solve any problem, and it’s just a matter of getting the regulations tweaked. They never stop to consider the possibility that the regulations are impractical because they are immoral.