Many Houstonians have been calling for increased planning of the city's development. Such planning, they argue, is necessary for the city to meet the infrastructure requirements of continued growth. If one drops context and ignores the lessons of history, such arguments are plausible.
Planning is the process of identifying goals and the means for achieving those goals. A plan without the means of implementation are simply a fantasy.
It should come as no surprise that advocates of city planning also advocate increased land use regulations. Such controls are the means of implementing the plan. And it is increased control over land use that is the real goal of planning advocates. Without such controls the plan cannot be implemented.
Stripped of its pretense, the pro-planning movement is a power grab. It is an attempt to gain control over land use under the guise of promoting more organized and efficient growth.
That centralized planning has failed time after time--the recent experiences on both coasts, as well as the failure of the Soviet Union are good examples-- will not deter the planners. That such planning has led to higher housing costs in other American cities is of little concern to the planners. That such planning inevitably harms individual citizens does not matter. The planners have a vision for our city, and they are not about to let something like historical facts or principles get in the way.
If this seems like an exaggeration, consider the means by which every type of government planning is implemented. Using a combination of proscription and prescription, government planners dictate the actions of individuals. The planners determine both the ends and the means, and then use compulsion to implement their plan.
Why, we must ask, would they resort to such methods? Why, we must ask, would they criminalize land uses that do not fit their vision of a perfect Houston? Why, we must ask, are they so eager and willing to use coercion? The answers can be found in the principles that underlie centralized planning.
The justification for imposing such plans upon the citizenry rests on the premise that individuals are to be subservient to the group, such as the community. The welfare of the group supersedes that of any individual. The group then, has a right to impose its views and values upon the individual. That some individuals will be harmed in the process is accepted as a necessity.
Planning advocates will likely argue that the process will be democratic, that input will be sought from the public, that a consensus will be developed. Such arguments imply that if enough Houstonians agree to a plan it becomes proper and moral to impose that plan by force.
Such arguments, and indeed the entire premise of centralized planning, is a complete rejection of individual rights. Such arguments imply that an individual may act, not by right, but by permission.
Each individual has a moral right to the actions necessary to sustain and enjoy his life, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others. In the context of planning, each individual has a moral right to choose his values and the means for attaining those values. But he may not use force on others, just as they may not use force upon him. The attainment of his values requires the voluntary consent of every individual with whom he chooses to interact
Planning advocates reject this. They believe that individuals should not be permitted to choose and pursue their own values, but must be compelled to pursue the values of the group. They believe that the individual must be forced to sacrifice his own values to those of the group.
Such policies always have and always will lead to misery and decline. And it will happen in Houston as well if the planners have their way. Despite the rhetoric, Houston cannot and will not escape the destructive consequences of centralized planning. If Houstonians wish to retain their freedom and prosperity, then they must not only reject planning, but the idea that the individual must be subservient to the group.