Too much opinion and too little knowledge can easily produce the wrong conviction. This is true in both the legislature and the judiciary. It is true in city councils and appointed commissions. It is true in all walks of life. Opinion has been debated since observation, emotion, and imagination began. It has produced hubris and humility. It has been misled by coincidence and abused with ignorance. It has been executed, burned at the stake, and subjected to politically correct intimidation. It has saved lives, produced destruction, and resulted in death. It has condemned the innocent and acquitted the guilty. It has stimulated debate and been a substitute for answers. It is a combination of intelligence and logic seasoned with wisdom and ignited by emotion. It has been our formula for choice in the absence of knowledge. It is a fork in the road chosen with logic that can lead to adaptation or extinction. It is a friend that can lead us in the wrong direction. It has been our salvation and our ruin. It is our hope for a better life.
When decisions are based on observation, assumption, measurement, evaluation, logic, and conclusion, the knowledge gained improves future policy, strategy, and action based on opinion. (For instance, mercury was once believed to be a cure for syphilis based on deficient knowledge and hopeful opinion.) Opinion is where we have been and where we will always be. The future is unpredictable. The consequences of decisions can only be anticipated. The repetition of success and avoidance of failure is a goal. Knowledge simply improves anticipation and our odds of survival. Little knowledge produces poor anticipation, inadequate logic, intimidation, and poor direction. Popular opinion in these circumstances simply adds to the confusion. It focuses on special interest without the homework or accumulated knowledge required to form policy direction, strategic plans, and tactical projects for common benefit.
We live in a tactile world. It’s not hard to understand why abstract strategy and policy are rarely distinguished from action. In fact, it’s my guess that policy and strategy remain largely intuitive components of daily decisions, even though they are the foundation for every choice we make. For instance, a policy of being home on time can be pursued with a number of alternate strategies until the action taken produces the desired outcome.
Each of us is driven by the anticipation of consequences to greater and lesser degrees. City planning and design are forced to anticipate with little proof of consequences and must rely on the logic of debatable anticipation. This erodes the credibility of their arguments, but the opposition is in the same boat. Decisions become unstable, uncertain choices that survive the conflict of logic, interest, manipulation, and emotion when knowledge remains unconvincing.
In city planning, this stalemate can produce an over-reliance on deficient zoning regulation that has never been able to consistently duplicate success and avoid failure. These regulations conflict with each other because they have never been accurately correlated. The consequences have been confusion, random decisions, and carcinogenic sprawl. We could solve climate change and still suffocate the planet with a blanket of pavement. It will slowly consume our source of life without geographic limits as we build the shelter, movement, open space, and life support we need to survive.
I’m afraid this opinion will continue to be challenged until there is an adequate vocabulary and language of measurement, evaluation, and prediction that can build the knowledge needed to support this conviction. Proof can only be provided with extinction. Choices will always be required, but we must be able to express them in a language that can be used to explain, design, enforce, and repeat success that enhances the credibility of opinion based on knowledge.
I have written The Science of City Design to contribute a language that is capable of correlating the social, psychological, environmental and economic work of others with the physical design decisions needed to shelter growing activities within a limited Built Domain that protects our quality and source of life – The Natural Domain. The book introduces a vocabulary and language that will permit you to measure, assemble, correlate, and evaluate relevant data in a search for answers to what has become a symbiotic question. The goal is to improve the credibility of opinion and its rate of success during the search. It can be found in e-book and paperback versions on Amazon.com.
In my opinion, we must use the fundamental gifts we have been given to anticipate what must be avoided. Our formula for survival has always been observation, correlation, anticipation, and adaptation with instinct, intuition, insight, and invention based on improvements in vocabulary, language, and education.