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Order without Design: How Markets Shape Cities (The MIT Press) Hardcover – December 4, 2018
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Order without Design is a work with a clear vision for urban policy—a magnum opus from one of the twenty-first century's great city planners. Similar to Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of the Great American City, Bertaud's book manages to weave together theory and practice in a way that will be eye-opening to the curious urbanite and enriching to the practicing professional. If city planning has a future, its contours can almost certainly be found here.—City Journal—
I am indebted here to Alain Bertaud whose most recent book Order Without Design best articulates his view about cities as labour markets. If you love cities that view might seem a bit reductionist, but it is a pretty good description. A well-functioning labour market makes possible every other aspect of urban life.—Transport Minister for New Zealand, Speech to Government Economics Network 2019 Conference—
Alain Bertaud is one of the world's great urbanists. He straddles the world of urban economics and urban planning―and draws forth the best of both fields. This book is a fascinating tour-de-force of clear thinking and real-world experience. Like Alain, it is wise, witty, and deeply insightful. Anyone who cares about cities throughout the world should read this book and grapple with Alain's incisive intellect.―Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics, Harvard University; author of Triumph of the City
- Publisher : The MIT Press (December 4, 2018)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 432 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0262038765
- ISBN-13 : 978-0262038768
- Item Weight : 2.5 pounds
- Dimensions : 7.31 x 1.06 x 9.31 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #141,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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As is common with this mentality, he assigns planners far more power than they usually have, as if they operate in a political or cultural vacuum. In addition, obvious real-world planners’ mistakes are assumed as typical of all planners; past planning blunders are treated as unlearned lessons (when, at this point, they’re recognized as blunders by pretty much everyone); and planners’ decisions are consistently disqualified because of their supposed ignorance of economics. In contrast, the private market is treated as a miracle of efficiency and clairvoyance; one that creates cities in equilibrium, where the rich and the poor end up in the housing that they freely “choose”.
Bertaud’s idea of a good city is one in which governments dedicate themselves to building roads and parks, and improving commuting times, and leave development wholly to the private market. I suspect most people will not be terribly excited with this agenda. There is a myriad of urban issues people worry about, which include environmental conservation, overcrowding, aesthetics, protection of views, social segregation, and many more which consume planners’ daily attentions and efforts. Why these citizen concerns should be sacrificed on the altar of economic efficiency and free land markets is a question the author only addresses at the end, and not very convincingly, since he doesn’t seem to think much of public opinion anyway. He argues that most planning regulations threaten the economic viability of cities. Maybe, maybe not. Some cities are very attractive for businesses because of qualities strictly preserved by regulations, even if they impede what many developers would want to do. He recognizes this fact for historic cities, but doesn’t see the need to extend the courtesy to other types of urban centers.
In the end, Bertaud’s position is that, for most of urban growth, the market always knows best. It would solve most urban problems if we just let it do its thing. But cities should be what its citizens want them to be. Markets are obviously one way citizens express those desires, but they cannot be the only one. Sometimes you just have to regulate stuff and act against markets, which tend to favor the well-positioned anyway. Bertaud’s insistence on carefully assessing the costs of regulations is definitively welcome; given his ideological bent, however, he does not seem equally inclined to examining the costs of their absence. While there is much to be learned from this book, readers should be wary of the author’s anti-planning, laissez-faire philosophy in this regard.
Aside from the potent Hayekian argument, Bertaud gave me some intuition for future real estate investments: a city is a labor market since people change jobs and companies add and subtract employees. Any form of planning needs to accommodate such a fact. And if cities are principally labor markets, they should both concentrate and differentiate along with globalization.
For Bertaud, a city is first and foremost a labor market, and as such an urban planner (as he himself has been for over five decades) needs to be aware of land values and the costs of commuting and of construction, as well as the trade-offs that exist among them. The job of the planner is to continuously monitor these magnitudes and to adjust infrastructure and regulations in order to promote the mobility of urban residents and enable complex economic development.
When city governments competently provide necessary roads and infrastructure and deal effectively with negative externalities, people can then rely on market values for land, construction, and transport to decide where to build, live, and work. When they attempt to go beyond these critical but limited functions, however, they substitute the conscious design of the urban planner for the far-more complex, robust, and responsive orders that emerge when ordinary people, operating in and through well-functioning markets, make their own decisions. By selecting feasible objectives, such as limiting externalities and providing useful infrastructure, a planner can help foster economic development and affordable housing for its inhabitants. In this view, population density or floor-area ratios should be dependent variables, not policy objectives.
Bertaud’s analyses, examples, and conclusions are the practical wisdom of a lifetime of technical study and professional practice. His understanding of the city as a complex, dynamic, and emergent order and his appreciation of the limits of urban design echoes one of the greatest urban thinkers of our time, Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs is famous for having effectively challenged, from the outside, the very planning mentality that Bertaud challenges here as an insider, and I have no doubt that she would have delighted in Order Without Design. Indeed, as someone who has studied Jacobs and written about her ideas it’s easy for me to imagine that, if she had been an urban planner, she might herself have penned a tome very much like Bertaud’s.