Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
Free Radical Updates
Local Club Meeting Plans
News & Interesting Links
Decentralisation, and Those Who Oppose It
Centralisation was the ideal of monarchy . . . the individual unit compelled to revolve around a common center.
Integration is the ideal of democracy . . . many units, free in themselves, functioning together in freedom.
Frank Lloyd Wright, 'New York Times, 1932
Planners have fought the car since the planning profession was invented. The car is the enemy of the planner. The car gives people individual choice, and the freedom to locate oneself where one will; the planner despises individual choice—the only 'taste' he recognises is his own; taste he thinks should be prescribed from above: "Get with the programme!" he commands.
The car gives people mobility, the freedom to seek out one's own happiness; the planner despises mobility—he prefers people to seek their happiness in the 'community,' in one another, rather than seeking it out in the wilds alone; lone wolves, people who seek their own happiness in their own way, are not the pillars of the community that planners would have us emulate. The car is the enemy of centralisation, and centralisation is the planner's friend—indeed, it is centralisation that is the planner's goal: a self-anointed elite prescribing the way of living for the lumpen masses they despise.
The planners are fighting reality.
The human spirit refuses to bow to the commands of the self-anointed, and like trying to divert a raging torrent, the flow escapes the planned strangulation of the spirit and breaks free of its bounds. As Frank Lloyd Wright described so presciently back in 1932, mobility and technology combined kill the planner's drive to centralisation, and make a joke of his prohibitions:
Centralization, whether expressed as the city, the factory, the school or the farm, now has the enormous power of the machine-age setting dead against it. It is in the nature of universal or ubiquitous mobilization that the city spreads out far away and thin. It is in the nature of flying that the city disappears. It is in the nature of universal electrification that the city is nowhere or it is everywhere. . . .
The city's expansion is inevitable—equally inevitable is its decentralisation. Technology makes it so. Fighting that is like fighting on the side of Canute, only when one fights this inevitability, one fights against the will of individuals seeking their freedom from the city, not against the tides. The city will continue to go out to meet the country, and the planners will seek to bring it back again. 'Containment!' 'Sprawl!' These are their watchwords. Meanwhile, 'lifestyle' properties continue to surround the city—the planner's compromise between individuals who seek to escape the city and the planner's wish to contain that desire—and the planner's latest weapon, the mis-named 'Smart Growth!,' seeks again to rein us all in.
The Smart-Growth weapon of choice in Auckland at present is 'Plan Change 6,' about which I've written a few times before. Countryside living, according to this thinking, is “unsustainable” because it "takes productive land out of production" and “undermines public transport.” How they hate people making choices for themselves! The provisions of Plan Change 6 are in essence a plan to end countryside living and to make rural New Zealand a National Park—such is the aim of the New Apostles of Smart Growth. Their chief achievement so far is to make Smart Growth-adopting cities severely unaffordable—houses in New World cities that have adopted the 'urban consolidation' policies of Smart Growth take twice or more a household's annual income to purchase, as compared to those cities that have rejected this fashionable nonsense. That's twice as much—at least—of your life spent working to pay for your home, if you can afford to, and all due to the planner's desire for control. This is little more than a lifestyle tax, with no beneficiary except the planner's ego.
The planner would like us all reined in. Compliant. Obedient. Living where we're told to, in the way that we're told to, following the tastes we're required to subscribe to. But it can't be done, and the wish to do so impoverishes us all. The human spirit breaks out from the prisons of the soul in which it's been placed by the planners and the meddlers of the welfare state. It breaks out with violence sometimes: spectacularly in the banlieus and the cités of Paris; quietly and grimly in the inhospitable concrete squalor of East Europe's bourgeois-proofed, planned cities, and in the planned precincts and New Brutalism of housing projects across the U.S. and Western Europe. 'Suburban neurosis' has nothing on the battleship existence of the housing projects, and the atopic suburbs themselves in their present zoned-and-controlled form are just another product of the planner's pen. As I've said before, the planners themselves know they've failed:
As the schemes for worker housing became increasingly uninhabitable, the plans for radiant cities drawn up by planners quietly began to be shelved, but the town planners themselves were harder to get rid of, and they began to look around for other pastures to pollute.
Asked when speaking in London many years ago about the desirability of the lower class's high-density 'battleship existence' for providing sturdy yeomen to fight the causes of Empire, Wright admonished the questioner and recoiled at the sentiment behind it. What sort of person would want to keep human beings in squalor, he responded? Why indeed, especially just to please the planner's own sense of taste and esthetics?
Of course, there is nothing inherently or necessarily wrong with high-density living any more than there is with low-density living—San Tropez in summer enjoys one of the highest population densities anywhere, and you don't see anyone complaining. The crime comes when either is forced upon people by the impositions of the planning profession, and the misdirections of the architectural profession. The twentieth-century mass-production of squalor began when the Brave New World of architectural modernism joined hands with central planners and Soviets-in-spirit to knock up their Radiant Cities and shining cities of the plains; their "row after Mies van der row of glass houses," the "worker housing" that has spread over our land like the elm blight," as Tom Wolfe described in his ebullient 'From Bauhaus to Our House.' It continued with the blight of zoning and other meddling mandating the mediocrity of uniformity.
Forget this mass production of standardised misery. "There should be as many kinds of houses as there are kinds of people and as many differentiations as there are different individuals," said Wright. And why not? One man's buzzing inner-city enclave is another's high-density rabbit warren; one man's suburban paradise is another's soulless sprawl; one family's lifestyle block pastorale is another's blot on a pristine landscape. Let them all be! Why impose?
What's wrong with choice, and letting people exercise it? What's wrong with a cornucopia of choices, an abundance of options, a profusion of possible housing choices? Why can't we leave people alone to choose for themselves their own manner of living? For when one strips away the veneer of buzzwords surrounding the planners' latest fads—for which we're all required to pay—when one burrows beneath the latest fashionable gibberish of 'sustainability' and 'smart growth,' of 'environmental responsibility' and 'urban redevelopment,' of 'alternative transport options' and 'urban decay' and the 'new urbanism,' when one sees what's underneath all the fashionable verbal clothing worn by the apostles of control, here's the raw reality you're left with: these people don't like the choices you make about how to live, and they will make you pay any price to avoid letting you do so.
Don't let them get away with it.
Discuss this Article (10 messages)