The APA’s magazine Planning recently ran an editorial (anyone remember what issue it was in?) ruminating about “the end of planning,” arguing that traditional planning – with it’s extensive process, lengthy documents, and static end point – should be replaced with a more nimble, iterative, and flexible paradigm. The editorial provoked an energetic and wide-ranging discussion inside PlaceMatters and with some of our colleagues elsewhere.
In addition to the question raised by the Planning editorial, we also found ourselves asking other questions about the future of planning, and what changes the profession and the institution might need to make to be effective and meaningful in the 21st century. Does the traditional planning paradigm give us the tools we need for dealing with increasing urbanization and dramatic demographic shifts? What must planning do to respond effectively to the needs and aspirations of urban communities that are increasingly dominated by ethnically complex immigrant constituencies? When we do engage people in community planning processes, are we asking the right questions, and in the right way?
How to dive in further to these questions about the very future of the profession? We found a bar across the street from the Morial Convention Center (during the APA conference last week), naturally, assembled a non-panel of five thoughtful participant-observers in the evolution of the planning profession, and were joined by another 15 or so equally thoughtful Salonistas. We asked each member of the official lineup to answer the Salon Question: “Is planning dead?” (or, alternatively, how does planning need to change for the 21st century?), after which we opened it up to an energetic, engaging, provocative conversation.
My PlaceMatters colleague Jocelyn Hittle (our Director of Planning Solutions) and I moderated the discussion, including our five unpanelists:
Stella Chao, Director, Seattle Department of Neighborhoods
Rob Goodspeed, PhD student at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Michael Lauer, Principal at Planning Works
Mary Means, Director of Community Initiatives at Goody Clancy
Ken Snyder, CEO/President of PlaceMatters
Some of the ideas offered by our unpanelists and other Salon participants included:
- Planners need to avoid acting like rabbinical scholars passing on received wisdom. Instead, planning’s most fundamental obligation is to engage, inform, and clarify. This obligation won’t change in the 21st century, but how we accomplish it probably must.
- Planning isn’t dead but rather is evolving. It needs to be dynamic and responsive. As long as we ignore the growing immigrant populations we are not building the best possible society.
- Planning is evolving but it might not be evolving quickly enough. As thoroughly as planners understand planning they don’t generally understand how to engage communities (and planning schools don’t teach civic engagement). This is compounded because community members and elected officials often don’t understand planning and its value. Unless planning is a partnership with diverse constituencies within a community, it will be really difficult to implement plans.
- Civic engagement can’t just be a regulatory process but instead must involve getting buy-in.
- Communities need to pull back on the regulatory structure for planning and instead return to the creative power of the private city.
- Planning can’t function without a sense of the commons and a strong social contract. The sense of the commons and the social contract have weakened a great deal.
- While a focus on outcomes is important, planning may have become too concerned with them; we have to do better on democratic process and strong civic engagement.
- Perhaps we need to eliminate traditional public meetings (one of Ken Snyder’s “Three Provocations for Planners”).
- Perhaps we need to eliminate traditional comprehensive plans (the second of Ken Snyder’s “Three Provocations for Planners”).
- Perhaps we need to limit the number of staff in planning departments that are traditional planners (while the others must be planners with unconventional backgrounds, fiction writers, community organizers, community outreach experts, designers, architects, futurologists, or educators) (the third of Ken Snyder’s “Three Provocations for Planners”).
- The “trusted advocates” model is one powerful approach to engaging underrepresented groups in planning processes.
- Planners need different skills than they learn in planning school or through the traditional professional infrastructure. Planners (or planning departments) may even need different personalities than those that traditionally dominate the profession (e.g., one study found that most planners are introverted and analytical on Meyers Briggs, which may not be ideal for the community engagement part of a 21st century planning paradigm).
- Planning is in fact dead, and it died the day the first car rolled off the line in Detroit.
- We may be in between paradigms, which presumably creates exciting opportunities to chart the course of the profession and its role in shaping communities.
The discussion (which we also live-blogged) was provocative and energizing in its own right, all the more so because of a shared sense – it seemed to me – that this is an important question and we need to find ways to engage the broader community of planners in muddling through the answers. And some of that is happening, including serious conversations among planners, cutting edge community engagement work (by organizations like the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the Orton Family Foundation, CityLab 7, National Charrette Institute, and our own PlaceMatters), and even entertaining throwaway comments by the likes of Frank Gehry (“urban planning is dead”).
Let the conversation continue . . .