Saturday, April 30, 2011

Death and Life of American Planning

The Death and Life of American Planning - Planning professor Thomas J. Campanella discusses the legacy of Jane Jacob's effect on planning in America: First: "Privileging the grassroots over plannerly authority and expertise meant a loss of professional agency." Second: " It diminished the disciplinary identity of planning." Third: "The seeming paucity among American planners today of the speculative courage and vision that once distinguished this profession." Have these culminated in turning American planning into a "trivial profession" whose goals of equity, social justice, and sustainability are self-undermined?


I posted this to metafilter and the discussion there is pretty interesting too:

1 comment:

LES said...

Azad, thanks for sharing this article and the comments.

First, props to Campanella for raising important questions and putting planning in its historical context. Yet, one could easily argue planning grew out of the social reform movement that emerged around the same time of Olmsted and more physical models of the city. While these social reforms were often paternalistic, they also perpetuated the idea that physical improvement leads to social improvement, which became codified in physical planning.

The 1960s marked a practical and theoretical shift in planning; however, if Jane Jacobs didn’t question the trajectory of planning, someone else would have. I think it’s important to view Jacob’s observations as a reaction to top-down, centralized planning rather than a remedy. Instead, as Campanella rightly points outs, planning as profession codified Jacob’s ideas into new ideas about “good” planning, which culminates in its most extreme form in radical planning theory. Radical planning theory (of which my knowledge is limited to what I read for 501) disservices its audience---professional planners---in my opinion. Can we professional planners learn something from radical planning? Absolutely. Has the planning literature I’ve encountered discuss its implications for professionals? Nope, leaving us to piece together its usefulness and frankly, adding to the planning field’s confusion.

Do I think that planning would benefit from a more physical orientation? Yes and no. To Campanella, it seems like the new skills set he advocates for planners is how the parts fit together on the page (i.e., in the physical plan). It is one thing to understand the fiscal impacts of a physical design, the social implications it may impose on the surrounding area, and the long-term environmental consequences. However, even if you understand how all the parts fit together, Campanella still does not address the fundamental question of implementation in planning education---negotiating the political and public avenues to implement the ideas in a plan, adapting to changing (often unexpected) circumstances, evaluating implementation in real-time (and adjusting plans accordingly), and recognizing reactions from real alternatives. I think the interplay between the more concrete planning that Campanella advocates and the skills he overlooks may help planning be perceived as less trivial.

Finally, while the question of planners’ professional agency is important, the way it is often discussed (i.e., planners had all the agency before; then they messed up; and planners have no agency now) is too dichotomous for me; in reality, I think planners’ agency depends on a variety of factors, perhaps most notably how planning is viewed in the place where you plan. In other words, planners’ agency is place-specific, and while it can be discussed in the aggregate, I think planning educators especially should avoid generalizing about what planners can and cannot do, as Campanella demonstrates that our profession’s influence or lack thereof is constantly shifting.