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Why Plan?: Theory for Practitioners

Why Plan?: Theory for Practitioners

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Why Plan?: Theory for Practitioners

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Lançado em:
Oct 31, 2019


Why do we plan? Who decides how and where we plan and what we should value? How do theories and ideologies filter down into real policies and plans that affect our lives? Written in a deliberately practitioner-friendly manner, this useful guide answers these questions and reveals planning theories to be simply new ideas that can help us see the world differently. Thinking about them enables us to take a step back to appreciate the wider context. The guide discusses the value of planning; how planning rationale has changed over time; and whether we have too much, too little, or just the wrong kind of planning. It then sets out twenty-five key concepts central to professional practice, ranging from participation and complexity to post-politics and state theory, from risk and resilience to governmentality, from assemblage to ecosystems and sustainability.
Lançado em:
Oct 31, 2019

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Why Plan? - Graham Haughton


Part A


Setting the scene – why plan, why theory?

What is the point of theory for planners?

Theory is necessary to figure out what’s REALLY going on. People always want to be a savior for their community. It’s like they see a baby coming down the river and want to jump in and save it. We need to stop being so reactive to the situations that confront us. Saving babies is FINE for them [other organizers/organizations], but WE want to know who’s throwing the goddamn babies in the water in the first place.

(Michael Zinzun,¹ cited in Leonie Sandercock, 1998: 85)

Theory is one of those topics that divides people – you either love it, or hate it, there is often little in-between. Because of this the departure point for our introduction to theory is, first, to make a case for its value. In a profession where practitioners are under pressure to rapidly process consents, produce economic regeneration strategies, or manage contested engagement exercises, there can be little space to reflect on theoretical dimensions of planning, which can seem rather abstract or frivolous in comparison. Perhaps unfairly, it can appear to some to be a series of discussions of utopian planning models, outdated planning histories, or esoteric European philosophers, all with little relevance to day-to-day practice.

While this intellectual approach may be attractive to some, to others it seems less valuable than the more immediate ‘action’ of practice. As academics who both teach planning theory, we readily acknowledge how inaccessible the topic can be compared to other aspects of planning knowledge and this book aims to help remedy that. Like many, we wrote the book that we could not find on the shelves, one that discusses theory in a deliberately practitioner-friendly manner. We hope it will also be appealing to others aiming to introduce themselves to new ideas that could help them see the world differently. And in simple terms that is what a theory is: it lets you see exactly the same phenomena, but through a different lens – like putting on a pair of sunglasses or 3D specs.

The introductory quote at the start of this section provides an alternative synopsis of this position. There is a dominant tendency for the planning discipline to be seen as quite prescriptive, procedural, or reactive, but theory pulls us towards the why, rather than the what; to ask more critical questions, and to take a step back to appreciate the wider context. Above all, it is explanatory. What is really going on? Just why are those metaphorical babies being thrown into the river?

A further point of interest for practitioners is that theories are not neutral; they are laden with power. The ideologies at play and the ways we frame issues filter down to policies and plans. They have redistributive effects. There will be winners and losers – even if the status quo is maintained. For example, if theories connected to enabling markets to influence the creation of a ‘fast-track’ planning system, for instance for major infrastructure projects, then while shareholders or other beneficiaries may realise value quicker, there will probably be less time and space for local communities to protest against localised impacts. So contemporary theories on how governments work, such as developing new governance bodies, or enabling private investment to flourish, inevitably structure how planning should operate.

Lastly, a deeper understanding of theory is important because it can help make you a better planner, or to use the words often adopted by professional planning institutes, a ‘reflective practitioner’. Every planning institute advocates for continuing professional development, but while most focus on keeping abreast of all-too-rapid changes to policy, plans, or regulation, this book is about changing ideas about both planning and the world in which it operates.

Why plan? A potted history and digest

So why do we plan? This deceptively simple question lies at the heart of the planning endeavour, particularly in the context of contemporary populist political discourse that rejects, or at least questions, the role of experts such as planners. The question ‘why plan’ is deceptively simple on many levels, not least of which is that to begin to answer it involves a prior question of ‘who’ plans. So some people would trace the planning impulse back to the early utopian thinking of Thomas More in 1516, to the Diggers in 1649, with their insistence that land should be treated not as private property but as ‘a common treasury for all’, and various ‘back to the earth’ movements since. We might also be led back to private ‘planners’, perhaps starting with the reforming instincts of Robert Owen in building New Lanark as a model village for a different, kinder capitalism, or the paternalism of Titus Salt in building the model village of Saltaire in Yorkshire, or the Pullman model town in the US – all built so that workers could live in a more beautiful, healthier environment and provided with a range of facilities that would help promote habits of respectability among those who lived there. From this perspective, the hope was that a better environment would bring out the best in people who would in turn develop into loyal and trustworthy workers. From a critical theoretical perspective, however, such thinking might be viewed as an attempt to circumvent high land values by moving workers to cheap land, or an early form of environmental determinism, hoping to create better people through improving the physical environment while doing little to tackle the fundamentals of poverty, powerlessness, or societal inequalities.

A different set of ideas emerge though when we begin to think of planning as part of the apparatus of the state. Why does the state plan? Here a different set of rationalities can quickly be identified to justify the existence of planning and evolutions in how planning is practised. Although it is tempting to associate particular types of rationality with particular periods in a nation’s history, in practice each time has multiple rationalities. Haussmann’s famous nineteenth-century redesign of Paris, for instance, can be seen as addressing many concerns, from disease associated with cramped and over-crowded housing, to traffic congestion, to military advantage by allowing troops to move more quickly through the city, or even the creation of safer spaces for middle-class consumption.

In the UK, the evolution of planning is often portrayed in terms of how the state’s role as a form of market intervention is re-cast at different times. A potted version of this history would be the emergence of growing pressure on the state to intervene and regulate to address the ‘market failures’ associated with slum housing and shockingly high mortality rates in Victorian towns and cities. In the early years of the twentieth century the formalisation and extension of planning powers was justified, in part, as helping ensure land was used more efficiently, for instance, resisting urban sprawl. In Europe, stronger planning interventions post-Second World War could be justified as helping to rebuild after the war while also supporting emerging welfare state ambitions of ensuring access to the basics of good housing, a clean environment, jobs, and adequate infrastructure. From the 1980s these ideas came under challenge in some quarters, with planners portrayed as ‘social engineers’ obsessed with ‘red-tape’ whose meddling got in the way of markets functioning effectively and creating jobs. In place of controlling markets with planning regulation, planners were widely encouraged to engage more positively with market forces to promote growth and efficiency. More recently, there is much discussion of a neoliberal turn within planning, but there have also been alternative discourses that have attempted to exert influence with varying degrees of success. For example, planning has been viewed as a key means to promote sustainable development or resilience to climate change. What such summaries of emerging dominant discourses that typically justify the need for more, or less, planning sometimes miss is that in practice each generation of rationalities has tended to engage with and to an extent morph with earlier thinking. The reasons for planning then, have become more numerous, interconnected and complex.

Another way of addressing the ‘why plan’ question is to insist that it is context-dependent – in other words, that the reasons why we plan have changed over time and vary from place to place. Based on what we have covered already it should be apparent that the ‘why plan’ question begs another one: why do we plan the way we do in any particular place? What the differing problems are in any place at particular moments in time will be one important consideration, but so too will be the range of political, economic, or environmental concepts and theories deployed to justify planning as a form of intervention in markets and, indeed, in people’s everyday lives.

Work on urban environmental transitions (Figure 1) is helpful in introducing and thinking through these ideas. This approach suggests that the most immediate problems facing communities and planners in poorer cities will be mainly local; think of poor or contaminated water supplies and the links to poor health and early mortality, while richer cities with their huge resource demands and waste streams can exercise truly global impacts, including climate change. This is not to say that planners in prosperous cities, for instance, can be complacent about their local environmental problems, as the recent re-emergence of concern about air pollution in many countries demonstrates, but rather it is suggestive of the different scales and mixes of problems that planners will face in different local and national contexts at different times.

Figure 1

An urban environmental transition: from sanitation to sustainability

Source: McGranaham et al., 2001: 17

Figure 2

Five eras of environmental planning in the United States

Source: Daniels, 2009: 179

It is worth emphasising at this point that the question of why we plan is also both spatially and sectorally specific, with different types of rationality involved in environmental planning to those found in urban planning, for instance. A good example of how this might look is detailed in Figure 2, which provides a useful summary of the types of thinking that have shaped environmental planning in the US since the nineteenth century.

There is a bit of a danger inherent in both these diagrams of thinking of planning ideas as being on some kind of sophisticated and upward trajectory that is leading us to an ever more perfect present in which we have learned from the past and developed better theories and practices. This could not be further from the truth – some of the values of early planning thinkers remain as relevant and important today as they were then, and environmental degradation continues apace. Far better to think of a messy layering of ideas emerging and evolving many of which still retain current value, whether as inspiration or as cautionary tales of what can go wrong when we do not engage critically enough with the theories influencing both planning and societies more generally.

The continual emergence of new worlds of theory

Once every decade or two a fresh set of ideas tends to come along that challenges everything we thought we knew about what planning is and what planners do. While theories are frequently claimed as paradigm shifts, as we shall see, the extent to which this bears out in practice is more questionable. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the backlash against technocratic, or techno-rational, forms of planning was associated with a Marxist critique of planners as having become ‘agents of the state’ who imposed ideas onto communities. It led to an outburst of work espousing new ways for planners to encourage public participation and new notions of the public interest, from advocacy planning through to communicative planning. From the 1980s and 1990s the rise of ideas connected to postmodernism and power challenged planners to think more clearly about planning for difference and justice, paralleled with a growing acknowledgement of the need to embrace new theories that foregrounded issues such as gender, age, and race. By the turn of the century, nearly two decades of planning reform in the UK and US had attempted to resituate the role of the planner away from seeking to ‘control’ the market in favour of a more urban entrepreneurial and market enabling role, inspiring a range of critical work on neoliberalism, the state, and planning. The power of these political and economic ideas has fed an interesting engagement with theories that seek to highlight their influences and tendencies. For example, the ways that neoliberalism may foster forms of governmentality that shape society in largely hidden ways, or the postpolitical nature of spatial planning, which may reduce the space for real politics and instead structure narrow debates about how to manage consensus within existing ways of knowing and doing.

In the current period, one of the most exciting areas of theoretical development has been how globalisation is being addressed with renewed vigour. At one level, thinking about globalisation is not new

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