The process by which a housing programme for Chicago was formulated’, my colleague and I wrote, ‘resembled somewhat the parlour game in which each player adds a word to a sentence which is passed around the circle of players: the player acts as if the words that are handed to him express some intention (i.e. as if the sentence that comes to him were planned) and he does his part to sustain the illusion.’
The idea of planning, or of rational decision-making, assumes a clear and consistent set of ends. The housing authority, we found, had nothing of the kind. The law expressed the objectives of housing policy in terms so general as to be virtually meaningless and the five unpaid commissioners who exercised supervision over the ‘general policy’ of the organization never asked themselves exactly what they were trying to accomplish. Had they done so they would doubtless have been perplexed, for the law said nothing about where, or in what manner, they were to discover which ends, or whose ends, the agency was to serve.
The agency had an end-system of a kind, but its ends were, for the most part, vague, implicit and fragmentary. Each of the commissioners – the Catholic, the Jew, the Negro, the businessman, the labour leader – had his own idea of them, or of some of them, and the professional staff had still another idea. There were a good many contradictions among such ends as were generally agreed upon. Some of these contradictions went deep into fundamental questions. For example, the authority wanted to build as much housing as possible for people with low incomes; but it also wanted to avoid furthering the spread of racial segregation. These two objectives were in conflict and there was no way of telling which should be sub-ordinated or to what extent.
Most of the considerations which finally governed the selection of sites and of the type of projects were ‘political’ rather than ‘technical’. A site could not be considered for a project unless it was large enough, unless suitable foundations for high-rise construction could be sunk, and so on. But, once these minimal technical conditions were met, for the most part the remaining considerations were of a very different kind: was the site in the ward of an alderman who would support the project or oppose it?
– Edward C. Banfield, Ends and Means in Planning, 1959