Reimagining planning

The word planning is confusing, because it both describes a generic attribute that applies to all activities and simultaneously has been taken over as the core term for city-making and become synonymous with it. Broadly it means to anticipate futures and problems, to explore their possible impact, to describe what is wanted and how to get there in solving problems and to select strategies from among alternative courses of action, as well as a set of steps in reaching a goal. 'A plan is like a map. When following a plan, you can always see how much you have progressed towards your project goal and how far you are from your destination.'29

With the pace of urban development so fast and the attempts of 'planners' to create orderly development, planning has increasingly come under criticism. Planning has two core conundrums to deal with: 'What is planning?' and 'What is planning for?' The American Planning Association shows no lack of confidence and deftly says:

Planning is city building... The goal of city and regional planning is to further the welfare of people and their communities by creating convenient, equitable, healthful, efficient, and attractive environments for present and future generations... It is a highly collaborative process. Through this collaborative process they help to define the community's vision for itself In the analytical planning process, planners consider the physical, social and economic aspects of communities and examine the connections between them.30

As to the scope of planning activity, the British government now defines planning as the creation of 'sustainable communities'. So planning is moving away from its land-use focus towards being more about mediation and the negotiation of differences. This requires new skills. For others, it veers between being solely concerned with the physical and the planning of land uses to being a generalist activity covering an understanding of economic dynamics, the social, the environmental and, increasingly, the cultural as well as the process of engaging communities in visioning where they live. In the former case the skills base is clear and circumscribed. It sees the city as essentially an engineering artefact and helps focus on orchestrating the built environment professions. As conductor of the 'plan' its self-understanding is that of the leader.

In the latter case its role is less clear - either it acquires higherorder understanding of a variety of disciplines to justify its leadership role or it acknowledges it is merely part of the city-making team. Or alternatively it makes a special claim that its form of knowledge is more significant in creating cities. These status battles have raged for a long time. At points it was the architect who claimed primacy; now it is the urban design grouping who claim that their overlapping concerns, touching the 'morphological, perceptual, social, visual, functional and temporal',31 put it in the central role. These dimensions cover connectivity, movement patterns, street layout, sense of place and image, environmental design, social use and management of space, and the functioning of the public realm.32 It should be noted that all the disciplines discussed, including urban design, are physically oriented and inspired. It is as if only organizing the space is important rather than creating a habitat. The knowledge of people who glue the city together seems incidental.

My view is that city-making is the overarching activity that draws on a wide variety of disciplines, soft and hard, one of which is planning and another urban design, but only as two among many. Mostly people will need to work in interdisciplinary teams, as only occasionally is one individual able to grasp the overarching picture. It is an exercise in telling a possible story about the city and how to get there. It energizes and provides direction. It is both normative and prescriptive. It is not value free at this point, as city-making is a process of exerting power. In being normative the city-makers will have critically analysed how they reached their conclusions, why things work and why they don't. It is not mere speculation. The skills of the storytellers need to include an understanding of the various dynamics that make cities work. It needs to be both hard-nosed and sensitive. This aspect of city-making should avoid the dull, lifeless language of traditional planning and explain why what it is suggesting could work.

It will address in its action plan the classic planning dilemmas, such as 'to plan or not to plan', and the guidelines and levels of rigidity it proposes will be context-driven. In this scenario, who is leading the process will depend, and by no means will it always be a physical specialist. It may in one instance be a historian, in another someone knowledgeable about social dimensions and in a third a culturally literate person.

There are then the mechanics of implementing and evaluating agreements, guidelines, regulations, rules or laws in fields as varied as development control and creating economic incentives. These are, however, essentially routine processes and should not be confused with the process of developing the bigger picture opportunities.

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