QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS AND URBAN PLANNING
Since this was written in late 2004, a new chapter has been added in March 2007 calling specifically for a new DC Program Analysis Office which would report either jointly to the Mayor and the Chairman of the DC Council, or to the latter only, if the two cannot agree. The material here has not been updated but is still largely relevant.
This short chapter tries to build a case for DC to develop a better quantitative analytical foundation for its planning efforts. It outlines the scope of effort needed in the context of the full span of the planning function, describes several key areas of analysis; suggests how such an independent analytical group might be formed, and offers several topics deserving early focus. It is short on words, and provides representative bullet charts to help flesh out the scope of the job. The charts are by no means exhaustive. It concludes with links to a sampling of NARPAC analyses on this web site. They demonstrate the type of inputs and outputs that can be achieved. To have an impact, however, they would need to bear an authoritative official imprimatur.
The business of running and continuously modernizing a large American city is a demanding task. It involves a highly complex, multi-dimensional "system" combining intimately interrelated sociological, economic, financial, technical, and political factors. It is inconceivable that such a management challenge can be effectively carried out without having a clear and realistic vision of its future objectives. That vision must be developed within the context of all major internal and external factors that impact on that "system", both within and beyond the control of the city's leadership. It is inconceivable that such leadership can develop realistic operational plans without using all available contemporary quantitative analytical tools.
varying analytical fields of view
The beginning of such a rationally-planned management approach for DC is to correctly define the extent of the "first-order" terms that influence the evolution of the city. American cities are by no means self-contained stand-alone entities. Planning must include, define, and reconcile a number of disparate issues within each different "field of view" from global image to planning cluster inequities. This involves a particularly broad "dynamic range" of issues for our nation's capital city, only a portion of which are within the control of the city's leadership. Managing change, both desired and inevitable, are at the roots of urban planning.
Typical Types of Analysis:
comparative statistical analysis
The foundation for such professional planning must rest on accurate quantitative data that define and measure both the magnitude and rate of change of all key parameters. This credible base should reach back into history as far as is practical (and needed) to make sure that past trends are correctly identified, should be as indisputable as possible in the near past and present, and should be consistently projected into the future for 10 to 20 years. DC's now-discarded 'INDICES: DC Statistical Index' was an excellent first step in this direction. Different planning efforts should not use inconsistent statistics to make their cases. Furthermore, equivalent data is needed for other cities (or relevant entities) to permit credible comparative analysis.
The urban "system" is a complex interrelated combination of human and material resources and activities that combine to make a living, changing, organism. It is important to recognize that the physical infrastructure both influences and is influenced by the human components that now and will invest the city. It is as important to be able to accurately identify and project the city's public spaces, transportation, communications, power, water and sewer status and needs, as to count its residents, households, taxpayers, commuters, tourists, etc. It is equally important to rationally project the impacts of new and emerging technologies on the evolution of urban needs, culture, and opportunities.
Many American cities, including DC, are fundamentally constrained by their ability to generate the revenues needed to provide the variety of services demanded. It is totally unrealistic to prepare plans for the city's growth and change without accurately projecting and assuring the revenues required to service and renew them. There must be quantitative agreement on the revenue potential and costs to the city of various land uses and users, as well as the true costs of maintaining and expanding a suitable infrastructure. Planners may need their heads in the skies, but they need their feet on sound financial ground.
Understanding the relative "net productivity" of the city's limited land and diverse users is essential. Such "productivity analysis" requires insightful understanding of the range of revenue sources, as well as the magnitude and reasonable allocation of budget expenditures. Such analysis requires substantial sophistication, and is by no means the exclusive or primary domain of budget accountants. The quest for expenditure reductions will require difficult socioeconomic and land-use choices, and the quest for revenue increases will require a hard-headed approach to property utilization within the city limits. It is both unwise and impossible to separate the analysis of socioeconomic and land-use issues.
solving, not protracting, persistent urban problems
Finally, there is a category of fundamental issues for which no practical solution is readily available. These issues demand the application of rigorous analysis in the quest for original, perhaps city-specific, solutions. In fact, "core cities" and "inner cities" suffer from inadequate national focus, and from problems which deserve leadership from the nation's premier example. For instance, the city's most serious socioeconomic problems cannot be resolved without finding tough but fair new approaches to breaking its endemic cycle of poverty and related blight.
Developing the Capability
developing a robust city analytical capability
NARPAC believes that it is of key importance that DC develop a central long-term focus for quantitative systems analysis. While the work need not all be done by in-house government personnel, it is essential to develop a competent core staff of experienced professionals and a persistent long-term memory. And it must take a skeptical view of all other city agency advocacy. Federal agencies frequently support internal or external "think tanks" that have the capability to conduct independent internal studies, or manage external studies and analyses on a continuing basis. It will be pointless to shop around for one-shot consulting services who simply regurgitate second-hand information with dubious foundations. It should be high enough in the DC government to be assured of bureaucratic independence, but sufficiently well imbedded to avoid political neglect or corruption. Under ideal conditions, it might also take on appropriate analytical studies for the City Council.
It could well take several years, if not a decade, to develop a world-class urban analytical center, but there are several primary areas requiring near-term attention as the city enjoys a resounding burst of growth. In the process it should be possible to innoculate the planning process from the various viruses of myth and wishful thinking. These might well include: a) a definitive exposition of trends in DC households from 1950 to the present, plus realistic projections of future trends relative to the Washington region; b) an authoritative analysis of potential transportation gridlock based on credible projections of the needs of all city users (residents, commuters, tourists, etc.) and the infrastructure expansion needed; c) an equally authoritative estimate of the relative net productivity of various resident household types, commercial property uses, and the contributions of commuters, government workers, and other city users; and d) a serious attempt to resolve DC's problems of concentrated poverty and the potential for stimulating regional solutions to affordable housing, etc.
Sampling of on-line NARPAC Analyses Treating These Issues:
Breadth of Current Planning
Specific detailed comments of missing
and inappropriate elements in new NCPC Plan ;
Correlation of DC demographics and
crime levels to parental education levels;
2000 Census statistics on increasing
automobile ownership throughout the region;
DC's NAEP testing scores relative to
other urban school districts;
Recent DC draft truck traffic
Estimating needed Metro capital
investment over 25 years;
Developing the Potomac Avenue metro
station into a major "destination station";
DC's Long-range DC Sewer Upgrade
Critique of Brookings report on DC's financial
Regional distribution of housing, household
income, and housing assistance: DC worst off;
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This page was (slightly) updated on Mar 5, 2007
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