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The Trouble with City Planning

The Trouble with City Planning

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Trouble with City Planning
    Book Description:

    After the vast destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans faces a rare chance to rebuild, with an unprecedented opportunity to plan what gets built. As the city's director of planning from 1992 until 2000, Kristina Ford is uniquely placed to use these opportunities as a springboard for an eye-opening discussion of the intransigent problems and promising possibilities facing city planners across the nation and beyond.

    InThe Trouble with City Planning,Ford argues that almost no part of our usual understanding of the phrase "city planning" is accurate: not our conception of the plan itself, nor our sense of what city planners do or who plans are made for or how planners determine what citizens want. Most important, our conventional understanding does not tell us how a plan affects what gets built in any city in America. Ford advances several planning innovations that, if adopted, could be crucial for restoring New Orleans, but also transformative wherever citizens are troubled by the results of their city's plan. This keenly intelligent book is destined to become a classic for planners and citizens alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16877-8
    Subjects: Political Science, Architecture and Architectural History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-8)

    After Hurricane Katrina came late in August 2005, news reporters covering the devastation began calling me, seeking to understand what had happened in New Orleans. Why. What would happen next. I had been the city’s director of planning from 1992 to 2000 and was by this time living far away in Maine. Journalists could reach me, but they could not reach the city’s usual on-site planners, who like everyone else had sought refuge, and their cell phones didn’t work in the storm’s aftermath.

    Few of the reporters who called had ever actually seen New Orleans. And those who had seemed...

  4. Part One. The Practice of American City Planning

    • ONE Cities as Planners See Them
      (pp. 11-28)

      In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the world was eager for news of New Orleans. Photographers filed images from every devastated part of the city and reporters told stories of the victims who’d lived there—how old they were, where they came from, how they made a living. Their race. In its devastation, the city became “interesting,” but for reasons other than the usual ones—the totemic tourist attractions, the music, the food, the “culture,” and the worn-out characterizations visitors liked: The Big Easy, Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler, the City that Care Forgot. The new subject of interest about...

    • TWO Intimations of Trouble: Plans After Hurricane Katrina
      (pp. 29-43)

      The annual meeting of the Louisiana Chapter of the American Planning Association was scheduled to convene the first week in October 2005—little more than a month following Hurricane Katrina, as it happened—and was to be held in Shreveport, a city far north of the Gulf Coast. Those in charge of staging these yearly conventions always sought a conference title that would bring some new and attractive focus to the event, thereby drawing city planners and planning consultants from around the state. In 2005 the organization settled on “Planning for Prosperity,” which was a new angle in Louisiana, where...

    • THREE What Are City Plans?
      (pp. 44-54)

      Another bright October day in New Orleans, six rainless weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Tree-shaded State Street, in uptown, looked as it had in the days before the storm—blooming flowers encircled the mansions, no fallen tree limbs blocked the sidewalks. A homeowner stood in his driveway spraying herbicide onto the weeds growing between the flagstones, his thoughts casting toward evening. It was an ordinary autumn weekend in New Orleans.

      But life was far from ordinary in the not-so-distant neighborhoods of Lakeview and the Lower Ninth Ward. In Lakeview, weeks of standing floodwater had killed every plant and most every tree....

    • FOUR What City Planners Do and Why They Do It That Way
      (pp. 55-66)

      When I was first made planning director in New Orleans, thirteen years before Hurricane Katrina, thevisionof the city’s diverse citizenry included, as you might imagine, many competing and sometimes conflicting imperatives. This vision included retaining the city’s historic character while attracting new industry that brought with it new, well-paying jobs. It included revitalizing run-down neighborhoods and reducing the social and economic isolation of the poor. It included providing parks and recreational areas in every neighborhood. Plus much more. To my mind, as the new planning director, this was all good. But it was definitely a complex set of...

    • FIVE How Planners Interact with Citizens
      (pp. 67-76)

      Shortly after my introduction to the New Orleans city council in 1992, a citizen who lived on the city’s West Bank called me.¹ He said he was from Algiers, referring to the New Orleans neighborhood across the river from the French Quarter. He lived near the locally famous firm that manufactures Mardi Gras floats, and was worried about rumors that Mardi Gras World, as the business is known, intended to expand its operations by purchasing adjacent houses—the ones that he and his neighbors happened to live in. He informed me he had organized a neighborhood association and wanted me...

    • SIX The American Evolution of Plans
      (pp. 77-91)

      Several important twentieth-century American plans had a different audience and a different theory of urban betterment from Daniel Burnham’s Plan of Chicago. Burnham’s plan was written for a group of wealthy businessmen and concentrated on imagining grandiose public improvements as a method of transforming the city into something ideal. But other important twentieth-century plans were sponsored by governments, rather than by private entities such as Chicago’s Commercial Club, and took an interest in improving the lives of citizens directly, rather than relying on trickle-down effects of public spending as Burnham’s plan had. Furthermore, these other twentieth-century plans became models for...

    • SEVEN How Plans Take Effect
      (pp. 92-110)

      It was on August 31, 2005, two days after Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans devastated, that General Russel Honoré of the U.S. Army arrived to take charge of the military’s relief effort in the city. General Honoré, a Louisiana native, was widely welcomed as he took up his duties of overseeing search-and-rescue missions, transporting storm victims from inside the Superdome and outside the Convention Center to more suitable shelter, and organizing the evacuation of citizens who’d remained in the city through the storm. Honoré was also ordered to patrol the “dry”—unflooded—neighborhoods until their residents returned and the city...

  5. Part Two. Locating the Trouble with City Planning

    • EIGHT City Planning in Action
      (pp. 113-119)

      Several years before Hurricane Katrina, Albertsons—one of America’s national grocery chains—sought to open a large, boxy store in a severely blighted section of uptown New Orleans, only one block away from St. Charles Avenue, the city’s historic, carefully maintained, and beautiful street. (Blighted areas close to beautiful streets are a feature of New Orleans’ urban physiognomy.) The site Albertsons chose for its store encompassed several blocks of poor and deteriorated lots where many formerly splendid buildings had fallen in or been cleared away over the previous twenty years. What remained in the neighborhood were a few large houses...

    • NINE Plans that Only Planners Use
      (pp. 120-139)

      As Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleanians from their homes, some survivors found safety atop elevated sections of the interstate highway that runs through the city. Soon after, Coast Guard helicopters lowered other refugees down to the highway alongside them, and for several days every viaduct and exit ramp became an island, places where victims awaited rescue in relative safety. Even the sheriff of Orleans Parish transported prisoners from his flooded jail onto one such elevated interstate crossing. There they could be safe.

      Although these isolated viaduct-islands stand out in photographs taken of New Orleans after the storm, visitors to the...

    • TEN Plans that Don’t Include What Citizens Know
      (pp. 140-153)

      It was August 1996, and unsurprisingly nasty humid weather in New Orleans—although the land-use issue before the planning commission that day was about refreshment. A young man whose smile displayed a goldcapped front tooth addressed the commission to say that he wanted to open a little store that would sell snowballs—the southern staple: a paper cone heaped with sweetly flavored crushed ice. Snowball stands are common in commercial areas of every southern city and are easy to recognize for being tiny, bright-colored huts decorated with paintings of what look like, well … snow cones.

      Inside each snowball stand...

    • ELEVEN Plans that Elected Leaders Ignore
      (pp. 154-172)

      It was December 1992, scarcely two weeks after I’d become New Orleans’ planning director, when a land developer stopped by to congratulate me on my new job. He unrolled several architectural drawings on my desktop and said, “I’ve got five votes on the city council, but I thought I’d show you the four-star hotel we’re about to build. We’ll need a map change.”

      “Need a map change” meant that the zoning district where his hotel site was located did not allow hotels (although, as shown on the zoning map, an adjacent district did). If that district’s boundaries could be redrawn...

  6. Part Three. Good City Plans

    • TWELVE City Plans for Citizens
      (pp. 175-187)

      President George W. Bush came to New Orleans three weeks after Hurricane Katrina to promise that his administration would pay to rebuild the ruined city. This was in mid-September 2005, when few lights were shining in New Orleans other than the floodlights trained on the president’s portable podium, and the people walking the streets were mostly National Guardsmen. Many elected leaders had not yet returned from places of refuge. But after the president’s speech these leaders confidently answered phone calls from inquiring reporters, and declared New Orleans would “come back stronger and better than ever.” A plan, they said, would...

    • THIRTEEN The Trouble with Most City Plans
      (pp. 188-194)

      All city plans are documents that reflect efforts by citizens, planners, and city executives to identify, rationalize, and manage future changes in how land is used. These are changes to what might be called a city’s physical environment (where buildings are built, streets constructed, parks provided, and so on). Planners understand city plans because they’ve been trained to write, read, and use them.

      On the other hand, city executives—mayors, council members, and heads of municipal agencies—understand plans because their dutiesrequirethem to. For example, and at least ideally, to authorize new uses of land city councils must...

    • FOURTEEN Formulating Good City Plans: The State of the City
      (pp. 195-201)

      The first two parts of a Good City Plan—the State of the City and Projections for the Future—are distinguishable from conventional city plans primarily for the improved ways by which they elicit and incorporate citizen participation in describing the city’s current situation and anticipated changes. This chapter and the one that follows describe briefly what these sections should contain, concentrating on how citizens can participate in formulating the sections themselves.

      In describing how land is used, the State of the City section of a Good City Plan provides a portrait of who lived there when the plan was...

    • FIFTEEN Formulating Good City Plans: Projections for the Future
      (pp. 202-206)

      The second section of the model Good City Plan is dedicated to inventories of new land-use proposals most likely to occur in the city, as well as expressions of where the local citizenry prefers such new development would be located. As before, most city plans contain such projections. What distinguishes projections found in Good City Plans is how they are developed in close concert with citizens.

      New development proposals in a city arise in ways and for reasons that are almost always responsive to the local economy. In a thriving economy, a city’s population typically increases as more people come...

    • SIXTEEN Formulating Good City Plans: Citizen’s Guide to Land-Use Decisions
      (pp. 207-212)

      Unfortunately, despite the care that might go into devising any city plan, most cities do not develop precisely as their plans propose. Therefore, the third section of a model Good City Plan is imagined to help citizen-users of the plan cope with the fact of development proceeding differently from what even a Good City Plan has specified.

      Land-use decisions enacted by city councils are the primary mechanism that causes cities to develop differently from how their plans envision. Yet it should be reiterated that most development in a city does not require city councils to make land-use decisions at all....

    • SEVENTEEN Activating Good City Plans
      (pp. 213-217)

      Of course, the good intentions of any plan—whether a Good City Plan or a conventional plan—must be activated for a city’s future to be as assured and made as intelligible as humans can make it.¹ Planners’ most usual and frequently used strategy for activating a city’s plan following its adoption is to revise the local zoning ordinance so that it reflects the vision of the new plan and assures that individual parcels of land will be developed in accordance. The revised zoning ordinance is, in effect, planners’ principal instrument whereby a city plan is executed. In the specific...

    • EIGHTEEN How Good City Plans Influence Elected Leaders
      (pp. 218-228)

      In early autumn 1994, a few months after New Orleans’ new mayor took office, he and I were invited to address an association of retailers whose stores resided on Canal Street—the city’s principal downtown shopping district. Canal Street had once been provided with fashionable department stores, fine luggage shops, a renowned music store, and distinctive jewelry merchants known throughout the South. But by the early 1990s, tennisshoe emporiums, pawnshops, and discount gold jewelry bazaars were now strewn among the remnants of the old thoroughfare’s bygone mercantile elegance. The historic jewelry store—New Orleans’ version of Tiffany’s—still operated at...

    • NINETEEN Good City Plans and Great Cities
      (pp. 229-236)

      September 28, 2008. It is three years after Hurricane Katrina left 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, and only one year after the Unified Plan for rebuilding the city was adopted. Given the extent of reconstruction needed—and given the Unified Plan’s forecast that rebuilding would take at least ten years—an interested observer might find it odd to learn that the city would replace the Unified Plan. Yet on this late-September morning theTimes-Picayuneran a story reporting on the first of what were promised to be forty meetings, all scheduled by planning consultants hired to write another plan...

  7. APPENDIX Plans to Rebuild New Orleans
    (pp. 237-240)
  8. NOTES
    (pp. 241-254)
    (pp. 255-260)
    (pp. 261-262)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 263-273)