Design by deception: the politics of megaproject approval

22Aug14

Design by Deception

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Bent Flyvbjerg

Harvard Design Magazine, Spring/Summer, no. 22, June, pp. 50-59

Some argue that almost no projects, including our most treasured ones, would ever be undertaken if some form of deception about costs and benefits weren‘t involved. The Brooklyn Bridge, for instance, had a cost overrun of 100%, the Sydney Opera House of 1,400%. Had the true costs been known, these architectural wonders may not have been built.

Deception is necessary for action—and for exquisite design—according to this argument.

This article is a must-read for those who are trying to make sense of the politicians, government agencies and developers who talk out of both sides of their mouths (usually at the same time).

Which large projects get built? My research associates and I found it isn’t necessarily the best ones, but instead those for which proponents best succeed in designing—deliberately or not—a fantasy world of underestimated costs, overestimated revenues, overvalued local development effects, and underestimated environmental impacts. Project approval in most cases depended on these factors.

Many project proponents don’t hesitate to use this approach, even if it means misleading lawmakers, the public, and the media about the true costs and benefits of projects. This results is an inverted Darwinism—an unhealthy “survival of the unfittest”—for large public works and other construction projects.

 

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