I have always been a bit suspicious of "planning". Like most things, when done well you don't even notice it. The land is divided and subdivided and the roads and views, spaces and limits are linked in a fine web. Working in small and graduated scale is the key to avoiding the megamanical terrors of power and control masquerading as planning.
But, to those who would do away with this kind of god-like, patriarchial planning, let me show you what pure, unbound self-interest does:
These colored strips are legal property lots, mining claims staked outside Gold Hill, Colorado. It might look like Daniel Libeskind's latest proposal for a museum, but it is rather the purest kind of sign of speculation. As you can see, they overlap, layer and conflict. So, while this might make for a really nice composition, it is a nightmare of ownership, access, water rights, etc.
We need planners and their schemes. We really need smart planners who see the use of the land as an integral part of our culture, environment and laws. The days of simply drawing lines on surveys, without respect to topography, daylight access, transportation, and people are long over. The legacy of those simply-conceived lines stays with us in the tiny, stranded portions of lots that can be found all over cities and towns.
how about an 9' wide parallel-parking-garage?
anyone for a 5' wide by 50' long house?
(actually that sounds like a pretty interesting challenge)
Daniel Burnham's "make no small plans" advice is worth noting. It does take a larger vision and coordination and integration at a very large scale to solve some serious problems and avoid many others. However, implementation on a small, modest scale is what makes our cities and towns livable and truly sustainable.
So let's advocate for strengthening that intermediary step of learning from the larger plan as a series of guidelines and principles, but allowing individual users and property owners to create projects that have some flexibility and variety. Top-down planning tends toward a kind of oppressive totalitarianism and free-market development is selfish chaos. The balance in the middle is tenuous and in a democratic society it is likely to be pushed and pulled by many hands, first in one direction, then another. Like most things 'in the middle', this position has no advocates, no strident champions.
Let's make bold architecture and visionary plans, but let's fight for careful and contemplative laws, rules and ordinances, and most importantly, let's be willing to live with results that are not perfect, but reflect our own imperfect selves.