Despite the romantic notion about cities that develop organically have a rich diversity of form and function, we cannot overlook the deadly side effects of negligent city planning. As Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star points out, last month’s tragic fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas is a grim reminder that planning has a time and place and its ultimate utility resides in the initiative to protect residents and make for healthier communities. The tangle of bureaucracy associated with planning, zoning and land use regulations can give any architect or developer a massive headache. In some cases, the laws are so restricting that diverging from bulk regulations becomes very limiting.
According to Hume, Texas prides itself on having a zoning free policy towards urban development, and while this contributes to its low real estate rates, we cannot ignore the dangerous follies that result from this approach. Surely there is a middle ground. Perhaps it lies in a long overdue overhaul of outdated planning approaches that are more receptive to the kind of development we would like to see in our cities without sacrificing public health.
In many ways, it comes down to economics and real estate values. Profit driven developers will always prioritize income over design. So where do we draw the line between rampant growth, and moderate and considered design? How anarchist can we be about diverging from our zoning codes and planning regulations? How do we determine the boundaries between strict land use regulations and intuitive organic growth?