Planning Decisions & Localism as an Ethical Issue – A Philosophers Take

Localism, as currently presented, presents complex issues that require exploration of their implications rather than treating it as a predetermined moral good.

A recent book by the American Philosopher  Robert Kirkman has an original take on this issue – looking at planning decisions as an ethical issue.

The Ethics of Metropolitan Growth- The Future of our Built Environment (April 2010)

Kirkman’s key issue is whether a place either constrains us or enables us to seek the good life.  The second consideration is how the identified good is distributed among people. Is it fair? The third consideration is how the identified good is distributed through time. Will it last? Finally, there’s the question of process, is it legiminate?

Kirkman recognises that planning issues raise difficult issues of justice, one person benefitting from a good place, might be excluding others.  A person with liberty to build where they like may be harming issues of well being valued by the people already living in the locality.  This become even more difficult when it comes to the issue of what scale a decision should be made.

“To the extent all of the different ranges of government pull against one another, each asserting its own rights and prerogatives, there is less likely to be an effective response to problems in the built environment. Perhaps most important, there is often a mismatch between the scale of problems and the scale of government authority with the power to address them.”

Kirkman conderiders the issue of housing allocations.   Almost everyone values a sufficient amount of housing affordable to residents with the range of incomes somewhere in their wider region, but the same people can exhbit Nimby tendencies about putting it in their own neighborhood, and few homeowners want to see their own  home become more affordable through increasing supply.

This of course is a classic case of the fallacy of composition, that the aggregation of individual and locality decisions about housing locally does not reflect the community will about housing nationally.

Approaching this problem with too small a scale, and you get inefficient fragmentation; too large a scale, and you’re apt to be insulated from what citizens actually want for their own community.

Kirkman therefore promotes decision making on housing allocations based on regions which arn’t too large for individuals and localities to participate in.

Planners would recognise this as planning on a sub-regional scale.

It is interesting then to see a coherent argument that decisions on metropolitan growth taken at too smal a scale can be unethical.

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