Urban planners are damaging local, regional, national and global economies…

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Sep 24

A client of mine wrote to me recently about her concerns with her current urban planner. She is trying to get a complex real estate project out of the ground and needs somebody who is prepared to go to battle with endless municipal and upper tier government land use regulations.

Here’s what I wrote back:

Planners are a different breed, Jill. I can’t say in an
email what my exact feelings are but suffice it to say that the profession isn’t
especially blessed with courage, vision, guts, break-the-mold idealism. 

I believe that urban planners have done more to damage our cities and
towns, plus hold back overall economic progress than anything other than the Black
Death, which by the way killed 50 million Europeans (60% of the population) in just
seven years (1346-1353, https://www.historytoday.com/ole-j-benedictow/black-death-greatest-catastrophe-ever). 

I exaggerate, but not by much.

I actually tried to calculate the damage they are doing (see
below—this is an excerpt from my most recent book, Why and Why Not to Invest
in Real Estate
, https://brucemfirestone.com/product/why-and-why-not-to-invest-in-real-estate/)

Bottom line, I completely share your reservations about your planner. I’ve felt this way for more than six months.

I suggest you interview 3 other planners including: [names withheld].

Best Bruce

It would be wise to recall this quote:

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable,“ said John F Kennedy on the first anniversary of the Alliance for Progress, March 13th 1962

I see more and more occurrences of civil disobedience as more and more homeowners and others silently protest asinine zoning bylaws and ordinances and other rules and regulations that do nothing more than choke the life out of our towns, villages and cities.

Did you know, for example, that most mortgage lenders won’t allow you to rent any portion of your principal residence, and if you do, you’re in breach of your mortgage terms and conditions–at least six foolscap pages of 8-point type that no one ever bothers to reads.

So if you are a like a 72-year old client of mine who takes in roommates (mostly students) because a) she is lonely since her husband died, and b) she needs the extra money, you pay no never-mind to cockamamie rules that would otherwise sentence you to penury in your sunset years… 

Anika (not her real name) takes in 2 or 3 female roommates at a time. She fusses over them; makes them wonderful Indian meals occasionally and reaps about $650 per month per room. She’s been averaging about $1,625 per month over the last few years; enough to pay her mortgage, which should completely paid off by the time she’s 75 thankfully. 

I estimate that there are around 25 million homes in Canada and the US presently owned by seniors, possibly more. So if every one of them did what Anika is doing, they’d earn an extra $40.625 billion a month between them. 

Alternatively, they could always ask prime minister Justin Trudeau and president Donald Trump to pony up additional income support in the vicinity of nearly $500 billion a year, right?

Good luck with that.

You can think your way to wealth a lot faster than you can work your way there, viz:

“I remember saying to my mentor, ‘If I had more money, I would have a better plan.’ He quickly responded, ‘I would suggest that if you had a better plan, you would have more money.’ You see, it’s not the amount that counts; it’s the plan that counts,” Jim Rohn

And since we are talking (mostly) about real estate here, I couldn’t resist adding in one more quote… because in addition to having good plan, you need decent buildings too:

“There are people who design buildings that are not
technically and financially good, and there are those who do. Two
categories—simple,” Frank Gehry

Bruce M Firestone, B Eng (civil), M Eng-Sci, PhD, Ottawa Senators founder, Real Estate Investment and Business coach, ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker,  1-613-762-8884 bruce.firestone@century21.ca twitter.com/ProfBruce profbruce.tumblr.com/archive brucemfirestone.com


ps now for that excerpt:

Here, I attempt to estimate the
annual cost of anti-democratic and often irrational NIMBYism and bad zoning
codes to the economies of the United States
and Canada.

First, I asked myself this question: what are
some of the factors holding back these economies?

Here are some of those factors:

1  low
birth rate

2  low
productivity growth

3  lower
workforce participation

4  lack
of lifetime learning

5  underemployment

6  misfit
of skills

7  early
retirement/force out of over 50s (and in tech, anyone over 40)

8  lack
of startups and PB4Ls

9  poor
urban design, urban planning, zoning and NIMBYism

To estimate the cost of NIMBYism and zoning
codes, I looked at just one variable—adding more density to existing
residential areas by permitting coach houses (tiny “granny” flats in your
backyard)[1]. Here
are my sample calculations:

[If you prefer, you can download my spreadsheet from dropbox at, https://www.dropbox.com/s/sfr0k6uh3nace0l/whats-holding-back-the-economy-public.xls?dl=0 to see what I did/how I calculated these numbers]

If 20% of the housing stock in the US and Canada added a coach house, I
estimate that the annual increase in GDP is more than $1.8 trillion.

Now that’s a big number.

I think the unwillingness to experiment with
better urban design is holding back both innovation and growth as well as
making our cities, towns and villages less interesting and less vibrant than
they otherwise could be.

Official plans that purport to dictate the
type of growth and uses that will be permitted to locate within a city or town
over the next 20 years (or even longer) is a fool’s errand in my view—if a town
planner thinks s/he can predict what will be needed/in demand over the next
generation, it’s only because they are time travelers from the future or like Biff
Howard Tannen[2],
they’ve met someone from the future who told them who the next 20 Super Bowl
winners are.

[1] This has been permitted in Ottawa since November 2016.

Biff in Back to the Future Part II acquired
Grays Sports Almanac in 2015 and then
made one trip back in Doc Brown’s (DeLorean) time machine to November 12th
1955 to give it to his younger self, making him incredibly rich because he
could reliably predict winners in multi-sports including: football, baseball,
hockey, horse racing, boxing, slamball, golf, tennis, track, polo, bowling,
surfing, sailing, auto racing, rugby, soccer (aka football in the UK), ping
pong, darts, swimming, diving, ice skating, racquetball, rodeo, and more.
Source: https://backtothefuture.wikia.com/wiki/Grays_Sports_Almanac

postscript: here’s a coach house design (with mezzanine) by architectural technologist Leo Clement I like–


postscript 2: you may also want to read this, 
Approval of Coach Houses Opens the Way to Better Urban Design


Spread The Word

About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.