The war on zoning is a secret??!

There are a couple of things that need to go away from writing right now. 1) Analogies between the modern world and ancient Rome (or ancient Greece) that make no sense and 2) using “The War on X” to title anything. The first observation I credit to brilliant former student Peter McFerrin, who noted we should just ban people from making these analogies because most of them are entirely specious and usually self-serving. The second is self-serving, too; overly emotional metaphor that nicely exemplifies the logical fallacy, if-by-whisky. Oh, those liberals! They are AT WAR with the Constitution. There is a CULTURE WAR. Blah blah blah. Retch, Puke, Vomit.

No, war actually involves militaries. Somebody trying to change policies in a way you don’t like is not a war.

Before anybody says it, I don’t think there is a GOP war on women. But that doesn’t mean we’re not in a backlash, a serious one, or that the people leading it aren’t a-holes. It just means that the war metaphor has been over-used, and I’m tired of it.

SO this selection from the Atlantic Cities crossed my desk this morning: The Secret Conservative War On Zoning.. I don’t mean to be rude, but are you kidding me? Is the war a secret? Or are the conservatives secret? Every so often I wish that people in planning would engage in some serious reflexivity about their own biases, one of them being that the field attracts people who believe in progressive social change. There is nothing wrong with that: in fact, that sentiment strikes me as noble and compassionate in my students. But that doesn’t mean that it’s right all the time.

So the shopworn “war on” title combined with an assumed conservative bogeyman. Why conservatives would resent being cast in this role in public discourse is anybody’s guess.

The rest of the article doesn’t help me get over my original grump.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the corporate lobbying group known for pushing the “Stand Your Ground” gun legislation that factored into the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, may be getting into a new line of business: planning and zoning.

Note the careful dodge: “may be getting into.” I love leads like that. And the emotional lead: Trayvon Martin.

The rest goes on to explain that ALEC has put “poison pill” language into model legislation that would to make local zoning much more difficult or impossible. Shocking! Lobbyists rolling legislation? Utterly shocking! How DARE THEY? Naive planners must be taken aback at the dirty pool out-maneuvering!

Of course, planners and environmental organizations have already set up their OWN pre-fab legislative models and language that contains their own regulatory agenda. But it’s right when WE do it, and wrong the Bad Guys do it. Three words: form-based codes. Environmental lobbies have promulgated these and their variants as God’s Own Truth in model legislation and policy. The idea that another group might be forming up in opposition to the values assumed in these regulations should hardly surprise us: it’s how American politics works. Planners and planning ideas, even zoning, do not get a free pass in the political realm, no matter how convinced we are of our own individual rightness and our opponents’ wrongness, ignorance, and bad faith.

Only conservatives hate regulation, after all, right? That’s why Democrat Jerry Brown is in the middle of deconstructing CEQA–not because it’s an over-reaching law, which it is, but because it might stop him from spending $3billion in federal funds on his pet luxury train project.

Going back to War on Zoning, Flint tells us that zoning fights are not new, and the American Planning Association has set up training to help planners…“deal with” TEA party activists.

Then he ends with

I’m guessing your local planning director didn’t sign up for this kind of combat. The professionals who have been immersed in that driest of endeavors, zoning, couldn’t have guessed they’d be in the middle of a culture war.

Again, are you kidding me? The APA already has a workshop set up, we’ve had roughly three centuries of people suing each other over land use law, planners like me have received *death threats* due to local land use conflicts. But we’re to be shocked by this high level dirty pool, wee downy innocent us. Every time you propose any change in zoning or recommend denial of a variance, you’re in the middle of a shitstorm, but oh my! A planning director would be just over her head when dealing with this!

The narrative: This is new and scary! This is not so new. This is new and scary, and you’re not prepared! It’s a secret war!

Not unlike the “secret” society, the Skulls, which has a movie, a sequel, and third installment of the movie series.

I’m sure that Flint is a good writer, and his work is worth reading, but this one got mailed in.

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