Towards a common agenda

Cities are made by people but rarely do people who know about people sit around the decision-making table. The exception is perhaps the market researcher. This might be a person with a background in anthropology, history or a social science like sociology. Understanding social dynamics, behaviours, desires and aspirations is key to how a city works. Investing in this skill can save resources down the line, given the expense of the built form.

How do you shift the thinking so that an individual's default mechanism does not lock in initially into the professionally conditioned mindset?

There are a variety of ways to change behaviour and mindset: to threaten or coerce through force or regulation; to explain more strongly and convince through argument and training; to reconcep-tualize; to induce through payment or incentives; to generate awareness by creating and publicizing aspirational models; or even by generating a crisis. Often what leads people to change their minds is a combination of the above.

The issues discussed in this section are unlikely to be shifted by coercion. They are too subtle and embedded in peoples' minds. Incentives are being created to change the thinking by, for example, the 'sustainable communities' agenda, which has a touch of coercion in it since many of the big urban regeneration projects have public resources behind them. Thus, if a developer were against sustainability, they would be unlikely to be selected. Showing and publicizing best practice models is a well-trodden path and has some merit. Reconceptualizing a task can be powerful. For example, talking of city- or place-making as distinct from urban development makes a difference. There is an aspirational, holistic quality to the former and a technical hollowness to the latter. So a highway engineer is likely to respond completely differently to the place-making rather than road-making challenge. Yet the best and most complicated method is through explanation, discussion, argument and training. The problem is it takes time.

The new thinking should impact on policy at three levels - the conceptual, the discipline-based and the implementational. The first is aimed at reconceptualizing how we view cities as a whole. It is concerned with reassessing the concepts and ideas that inform action and is much the most important as it determines how problems are conceived and handled at other levels. The idea of

Source: Charles Landry

Too many people think of the city as simply bricks and mortar conceiving the city as an organism rather than a machine is an example. It shifts policy from concentration on physical infrastructure towards urban and social dynamics and the overall well-being and health of people, implying a systemic approach to urban problems. Absorbing the full impact of this shift can be difficult. Second, thinking about policy at discipline level involves reviewing existing policies in known fields - transport, the environment, economic development and social services - and considering the efficacy of existing models and ways of addressing problems. For example, in transport there may have been an emphasis on car transport, which might need to shift to a hybrid model combining the benefits of public and private transport. This shift might be easier to achieve as it is largely a matter of shifting priorities. Third, thinking afresh about policy implementation involves reviewing the detailed mechanisms to expedite policy, such as the financial arrangements or planning codes to encourage and direct development in certain directions. This might be how grant regimes are set up and targeted; what incentive structures, such as tax rebates or fiscal encouragements, are created; or how local plans and the priorities are highlighted. In principle this is easy to understand and to do, but not necessarily easy to implement.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment