I have a friend, Harry, quite an odd bird, who calls himself a ``contrarian" planner; I recently learned that Harry has been advising the Town of Brunswick in connection with a developer's proposal to chop a new road from WalMart to Rt 2. I called him about this prospective deal the other day; what follows is a transcript of our conversation.
``Harry, I'm puzzled. The land the road would slice through is zoned at a minimum of one acre residential. Yet the proposal you recommend calls for shrinking the zoning in order to build a commercial strip."
``Selmer, Selmer, Selmer. Remember! I'm a contrarian planner! Everybody else thinks you should avoid the ugly juxtaposition of business and residential, multi-family dwellings and prime single-family homes. Not me! Our plan is to take beautiful virgin land that falls next to Brunswick's prime residential properties and smack sprawling apartments and business right up against it."
``Hmm. Aren't the homeowners upset?"
``Sure they are! They've turned out in large numbers to protest; they've written letters; some have even put their houses up for sale. But I advise the Town to take the noble contrarian route. We shouldn't cave into the majority; we shouldn't listen to the voters; we shouldn't give the taxpayers what they have a right to. I recommend that we do the deal in order to put some greenbacks in the pocket of one man: the developer."
``Surprised? Aah, you're just a victim of herd mentality. Who says democracy is so great? I say it's all just groupthink."
``But isn't the Town Board composed of elected officials?"
``So Harry, won't they be voted out given how the people feel?"
``Of course they will. But aren't you sick of politicians who try to follow the wishes of their constituents? This time I think the politicians should outright dump on the demands of those who both put them in office and pay their salaries. When they're kicked out of office they'll have a lot more time for shopping, and they'll be able to get from WalMart to Rt 2 faster."
I took a deep breath. ``But do we really need the road? I read that the State is planning to reengineer Rt 7 into a first-class corridor that can handle all the traffic."
``Ah; I've got this base covered too. The State doesn't exactly pull such projects off quickly. So, if we build this road we can give them reason to drag their feet even more. If we divert enough traffic to Rt 2, maybe the State will never get around to widening Rt 7."
``You want to give the State incentive to procrastinate?"
``Well don't most people want the State to move quicker? Don't forget the principle that drives me!"
I had to admit, he had me off balance. ``Uh, is this project consistent with the Master Plan?"
Harry snorted. ``This isn't the first time they've called me in, you know. Previously I advised the Town to plan without a Master Plan. Everybody and his uncle has a Master Plan. We stand alone, proudly alone."
``Well can Rt 2 take the traffic?"
``Nope. There's a blind turn just west of where the new intersection will be, a deadly little bend that has been home to many accidents. Just this year a school bus was clobbered. Last year an oil tanker streaked around the turn and flung an oncoming car over the guardrail."
``And this is good?"
``In my contrarian book, sure. Everybody wants to lower the odds of a fatality at this turn. Our road will have the opposite, welcome result. I predict that soon enough a child boarding a stopped bus will be sent to the great beyond."
Sometimes Harry is more macabre than quirky. I tried a different tack:
``It just doesn't smell right, Harry."
He laughed. ``Yeah, a lot of planners strive to prevent even a whiff of impropriety. I turn that approach full circle; here's the deal. The town thinks it needs a road; WalMart `donated' $150K to the Town to `explore' the possibility of putting one in. So we come along and grab the Town by the -- uh, sorry, we come along and offer a sweet deal: we'll put your road in for you as long as you let us violate every orthodox principle of planning in world on the way to making a buck. O I tell you, it's a thing of beauty. This deal will be my masterpiece."
Selmer Bringsjord is the author of fiction and non-fiction books (his latest non-fiction book, Abortion: A Dialogue, will be published this Fall), and lectures throughout the world. He is a Brunswick resident.