Andrés Duany slams public participation in city making

Post by Mike Klassen in


Andrés DuanyAmerican new urbanist Andrés Duany rarely pulls his punches. He has alienated some with the brashness of his message, but to me it's music to my ears. Recently Duany was interviewed by Builder magazine, a trade publication read by home builders, and others with an interest in residential development.

In the interview done with Builder, Duany says that the greatest impediment to smart growth is public consultation:

BUILDER: What is the biggest impediment to smart growth?

DUANY: Citizen participation in the planning process is probably the biggest roadblock. If you ask people what they want, they don’t want density. They don’t want mixed use. They don’t want transit. They don’t even want a bike path in their back yard. They don’t want a grid that connects, they want cul-de-sacs. They can’t see the long term benefits of walkable neighborhoods with a greater diversity of housing types.

For those in every city and town who might have attended a public meeting on the future of their community, comments like these might seem like an insult. Surely, this guy from Florida is full of it. We won't have this guy telling us what to so with our communities, right??!!

Well, if you've watched closely some of the debate within the City of Vancouver around neighbourhood development, you might agree with Duany's statement. Arguably, the public consultation process in this city is currently on life support. There are a few reasons for this that I can list, and I'm sure others can weigh in with their own.

For one, the fact that the city's Planning Department is grossly understaffed at this time, with unfilled headcount for around two dozen positions, might have a part in this. The current city council must also share some of the blame. After campaigning on the promise of improving public process, they've retreated from more neighbourhood participation. This is because of Vision's populist style of politicking, and their steadfast avoidance of controversy.

There has also been considerable mischief making by public groups and individuals claiming to represent neighbourhood interests, when in fact they stand for the views of only a few. And the fact is that the City has failed to respond to this phenomenon.

Duany cautions against cities dictating smart growth upon communities where there is resistance to it.

BUILDER: Can smart growth gain traction if it is merely a choice, or must it be mandated?

DUANY: It has to be a choice. When you make smart growth mandatory, it crashes. Studies show that 70% of people want smart growth, which is great. But there are still the 30% who are really happy with their cul-de-sacs and McMansions and long commutes. And because one-third of Americans explicitly like things the way they are, you cannot eliminate that option. Reform doesn’t work when you try to exterminate conventional suburbia. To be more effective, all you need to do is level the playing field and then let the market operate.

In a speech made to hundreds here in Vancouver in 2008, Duany explained the reasons why public consultation has been so problematic.

The people in the single-family neighbourhoods are terrified. They're terrified they're going to lose value, they're terrified of their neighbour and their house becoming a quadraplex or a sixplex...or god knows what. You know why they're terrified? Because they have reason to be terrified.

Because we've had 30 years of codes that are too imprecise, and government that cannot be trusted, allowing incompatible buildings in single-family neighbourhoods. Eventually, that becomes hard-wired in the society. And people hate change.

By the way, people in the 1950s LOVED change. "Change – great! Get me the future, I can't wait." Now most people are terrified of the future...

It all has to do with bad planning. When a new project goes in, all they lose is open space, there's more traffic...what's in it for them?

So while Duany describes how public consulation is often at cross-purposes with sustainable growth, he also gives some important context of how we got here. It didn't happen overnight, and fixing it will not happen quickly either.

To restore that trust between cities and stakeholders will take time. But time is not on our side. Climate change, rising energy costs, and lack of affordable housing are catalysts that will drive change in our cities with stunning speed.

Fixing public consultation can happen, but it will have to be like changing a flat while the car is moving. It will be difficult, and necessary, but not impossible.

- Post by Mike


He's a 'new urbanist'?

Do we really need a new synonym for communist?

I'm getting annoyed by how these 'green' vagaries have become brands co-opted by every shyster and half twit in leadership, including Gregor & Co., to justify everything from the overruling imposition of their will on people to the underlying profits for their corporate friends.

Want to know how to sell a fridge to an Eskimo? Tell them a fridge is the only way to a sustainable green environment.

'smart growth' 'green' and 'sustainability' will be joining the ranks of 'information superhighway' and '500 Channel Universe' if Vision and company aren't careful - and by the looks of it, nope they aren't.

The net result of this nanny state behavior will be a backlash and indifference by the public, which would be tragic, but unsurprising.

Get a big tall box built in Dunbar, Shaughnessy or Point Grey, then we can talk.

Gosh, really? Duany is a radical phoney and a communist? I'm sure we can come up with better interpretations than that.

Here's a three-minute video I found after a 5-second Google search.

He's talking with a community looking for help reshaping their future. They're sitting at a table, listening, and one assumes asking questions of Duany, who has been invited to review their updated community plan.

At a high level he talks about the "node" of the community and how it can serve locals better without driving. He encourages the community. It doesn't feel much like Stalin to me, but maybe I'm missing something.

You're right, when he's talking about "nodes" etc, he doesn't sound like a commie, more like the leader of a mind-control cult using linguistic manipulation. He tows the green line.

Let's take away all the roads and cars, cram the population in "ecodense" shanty-scrapers, dictate what people can eat (mmm.. soylent green), raise the taxes, send $100 billion to Mugabe every year, and declare "global warming denying" a mental illness (already happened, and dissent as a mental ilness is so commie it's cliche)

Green is the new Red, comrade. Now let's all mail our paychecks to the IMF.

We'll count you as part of what Duany describes as the 30% that need more persuading. :-)

Don't you just love elitism? Why do the "experts" believe they always know best? Maybe we citizens want to live in a city that offends the elite planners. Tough for them I say. It was the physical and social planners who imposed their elite views on the original redesign for the downtown section of Granville Street. What a mess that has been.

I think most of you are missing Duany's point.And I'm really glad Mike posted this article. It's not a question of elitism, it's just that the 'creme de la creme' want policies of exclusion in the neighborhoods, not inclusion. NIMIBY's, Lulu's (Locally unwanted land use) and NIMTOO (not in my term of office)politicians and right-populists love to exclude other folks from sharing their neighborhood or doing anything innovative and sustainable. All to 'protect' their property values and keep some of the great unwasshed out. Since when has it been the job of City Hall to protect YOUR property values? Shouldn't your deistic forces of the 'market place' take care of that?

While I do not always agree with Duany's fondness for neo-traditional architecture, I agree wholeheartedly with his general views regarding planning.

I agree that neighbourhoods with porches and 'eyes on the street' are preferable to neighbourhoods where everyone hides behind a double garage door. (Your neighbour can move, and you don't know!).

I also support the idea of neighbourhood shops integrated with new housing, rather than the separation of uses that is so common in many new North American subdivisions. And I agree with his opposition to a form of neighbourhood planning that requires you to get into your car to get to the stores.

I also agree with the idea that a neighbourhood should have a mix of housing forms; not just single family houses, or apartments, but a mix.

These are all ideas put forward by Duany and his 'New Urbanism'. Do the previous 'comment posters' really disagree with these planning concepts? I hope not

What are you all talking about comrades? Vancouver is HARDLY a city suffering the planning blight that requires Duany's evangelizing.

From that Youtube video Mike posted, it appears Duany's target is decaying US towns that saw their next generation pack up and leave. I've been to many US burbs and downtowns that look abandoned at night or at worst post-apocalyptic; fundamentally different circumstances, culture and city structures than lotusland here. Are you from here?

And no, most Canadian cities with sprawl have not decayed. The Golden Horseshoe in Ontario appears to still thrive.

It SHOULD be the job of city hall to maintain a staffed PLANNING DEPARTMENT and not make impactful rezoning decisions in the absence of one. Or else you get a hodgepodge based on where the populist political winds blow. And blow they do.

If you want to endorse overpriced shanty-scrapers full of 400 sq. foot bachelor rental apartments, cut to the chase, just come right out and say it.

Duany is an apt con artist who is continuously looking for a mark. It's his stand up shtick in front of his own audience. "Studies of 70% versus 30%", wow, where did he come up with these numbers? It's his job to KEEP his job in perpetuity, buddy!
Your comments are shortsighted, big time. You need public consultation in 2009, at least for the sake of pretending that you care about democracy. Piece of advice, research the centralized planning and development behind some real urban disasters in former communist Eastern European countries. Take a guess, were they done with public involvement or not?

Bring on the public consultation, I say. But, citing the words of Portland Metro Councilor Robert Liberty, make it 'respectful'. The last thing we need is another public meeting full of speakers who haven't even bothered to talk to five of their neighbours before claiming to represent thousands in their community.

Further, everyone should do their homework on neighbourhood planning. If we recall some of the howling debates this city has had in the past (i.e. redeveloping the Carling brewery site at 12th & Arbutus), just a few years later we see that the change was a good idea.

Before you rip on Duany, spend an hour listening to these lectures, then tell me exactly what is wrong with what he proposes.

Way to misinterpret his words, conspiracy theorists. Did you even read the whole thing?

"It has to be a choice. When you make smart growth mandatory, it crashes. Studies show that 70% of people want smart growth, which is great. But there are still the 30% who are really happy with their cul-de-sacs and McMansions and long commutes. And because one-third of Americans explicitly like things the way they are, you cannot eliminate that option. Reform doesn’t work when you try to exterminate conventional suburbia. To be more effective, all you need to do is level the playing field and then let the market operate."

Totally Stalinesque, for sure. I suppose you believe that there's no such thing as a tragedy of the commons, either?

OK, so I read all the comments and I also watched ALL approx. 10 min long clips Mike, interesting stuff...for a new immigrant to North America OR for one who have no clue about Urban Design, Architecture, Engineering or Planning in general. I agree with you Mike, that the lecture makes sense, it was sensibly right, in fact in several instances I advocated just that, nothing new, really. If any of you former political aides at our City Hall had the curiosity to attend a few Urban Design Panel (UDP) meetings (say in the past 10 years), you would understand why this lecture was of no benefit to me.
I don`t think Duany is a con artist as Higgins suggested, in fact he appears to be a very knowledgeable architect gently pissed off on the development & planning community and for a very good reason. Out of curiosity next time before touching on a subject like this follow up a specific ITEM on the UDP`s meeting agenda with the exact ITEM facing the Development Permit Board (DPB)meeting and you will find the answer to why things don`t work. I need to say no more. To this end I have to disagree with you and Duany (if that`s what he implied, something that I did not hear during the lecture) on public involvement in the decision making process. Without that public opinion expressed, Marine Drive community would be a Walmart drive-in community, as it turned out, without it, now the Grandview & Boundary is ! Cheers


Thank you for posting the second Youtube link - lecure part 2 of 9 makes my point for me from 5:39 to 6:30 as to why STIR as it's currently being proposed for use by the developers is incompatible and flawed.

Besides that, Duany is great reference material for the villain in my next screenplay. :)

Thanks for your thought provoking posts. I'll have to run through the rest of the lectures when I'm back from Christmas break and continue my homework on neighbourhood planning.

GR, good comments. I've not sat in enough Urban Design Panel meetings to make a judgment on how this peer-based review affects the development process. I'd love to hear what others think though.

Your points on Marine Drive are well-taken. In one of Duany's talks he makes reference to how ridiculous "green Walmarts" are. It's not the building that creates the carbon footprint, it's the thousands of car trips to the store that cause it.

Duany's imperative is to help us find a way back to mixed-use communities, with compatible architecture, and lessened reliance on car commuting.

Yep, you are.

Check out!

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