Places and Persons

At Null Space, Chris Briem notes a long-standing divide in the planning literature: Which is better -- place-based community development, or person-based community development? Chris isn't taking a strong position himself; he's reminding us of the historical character of the debate (i.e., Richard Florida did not discover it) and pointing to a longer and thoughtful blog post by Professor Randall Crane at UCLA. Professor Crane writes:
Planning debates over the relative merits and consequences of place-based (e.g., policing, enterprise zones, business improvement districts, neighborhood investment strategies, infrastructure, the gamut of supply-side urban development strategies, downtown redevelopment) versus people-based (e.g., training/education, some housing assistance programs, welfare as we knew it, means-tested transfers generally) are omnipresent, yet so far as I can tell there is no recent account of the overall status of these analyses, or systematic comparative assessments, or what the associated research or policy agendas might be.

As a non-planner, and as a skeptic when it comes to economic analyses of social and cultural phenomena (like this), I find it odd (understandable, but odd) that planners phrase the question in "either/or" form. Both public and private resources are limited, so in any particular case the question may come down to where to put one's money. And there are interesting historical and contemporary questions about priority -- which came first, "people" or "place." (My money is on "place," but that's a debate all its own.) But in the broader sense, and priority aside, it's difficult for me to see how "people-based community development" can be successful without attention to place-based issues, and vice versa.

The "people" in "people-based community development" are never indifferent to where they are located, whether location means block or neighborhood or city or region. (and see Tiebout, Charles.) The chronic anguish over the future of Pittsburgh and each other small city is a signal that place matters terribly. Should the City of Pittsburgh or private real estate developers put development dollars Downtown, or on the North Shore or on the South Side or in Eastside (sorry; that should be East Liberty, of course) or anywhere else? Good planning and economic research doesn't make error of ignoring differential demand for different "places," but posing a "people v. place" hypothesis invites it.


5 Responses to "Places and Persons"

John Morris said... 2/20/2007 2:58 PM

I think that saying things like "I am opposed to planning" can leave people confused. I assume what you mean is that you are opposed to central planning-government planning.

The world is far too complex and has far too many ever changing variables to centrally plan. One can however, have a system in which individual actors are free to coordinate their individual plans. That system is free market capitalism.

Mike Madison said... 2/20/2007 3:01 PM

Um, OK. I haven't written "I am opposed to planning" (at least not here, and I don't recall writing that anywhere else). And I am not universally opposed to central or government planning (it's OK in the right place and at the right time and in the right dose); that topic has nothing to do with people v. places. In this post, I wrote, "As a non-planner," which means "I am not a planner." I am a law professor.

John Morris said... 2/20/2007 3:47 PM

Well, I sort of took the as a "non planner" line the wrong way ".

I sort of jumped on it because, one of the common myths out there is that free market types are opposed to planning and proponents of "chaos". No sane person would oppose people making individual plans in their lives- to marry or not, where to work, what to study, which businesses to start, technologies to invest in etc.

The 20th century has helped to show the extreme dangers that develop by replacing individual plans with centrally imposed government plans. I think that it is the fundamental problem in Pittsburgh; you always have to sit and wonder what the planners and their pals are going to cook up next.

Schultz said... 2/20/2007 10:04 PM

As a non-planner, my favorite urban planner of all time is Edmund Bacon, the father of both Kevin Bacon and the revival of Philadelphia's Society Hill neighborhood.

One Eyed King said... 2/21/2007 11:52 AM

What do you think about the new Economic Development Czar? No one is saying very much about it.
I found one commentary and it wasn't very positive, but this blogger seems to hate the Mayor so I don't know

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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