Keeping up appearances
On Wednesday 12 February 2014, a Dutch historian involved in urban planning was quoted in a public statement as saying the following: “By the strength of design, we can draft and draw the cities of the future. But with all stakeholders involved from day one, we have much greater public support”. At first reading, it may seem as a genuine attempt to get stakeholders involved in his projects. In order to make cities a better place, of course. After dissecting his words more carefully, however, it becomes all too clear what ulterior motives he has.
“By the strength of design, we can draft and draw the cities of the future”
This is rather straightforward, albeit a little old-fashioned: sure, designers have the ability to make visionary master plans as blueprints for a bright and shiny future. But haven’t we sort of passed that phase by now? There’s nothing wrong with rigid planning, as Le Corbusier underlined in his book Airplane: “To those who love life, I say prepare plans. MAKE YOUR PLANS ! …”. We all wish we could make a plan that –on paper– fixes all of society’s problems and shows us the path to a better life. That’s ok. But to put that in a public press release 80 years later and consider it innovative seems a little ignorant.
“But with all stakeholders involved from day one, we have much greater public support”
Right. This is fun: let us involve stakeholders solely for raising public support. Of course, why bother with all those ideas –based on years of practical experience– that each of the stakeholders has of their own? Nuisance! They’ve already MADE THEIR PLANS! It’s the classic example of pseudo-collaborative planning: pretend like you care, but by all means don’t engage yourself with the true complexity of spatial planning.
- Make your plan;
- Find any way to get it done.
Follow the path of least resistance, especially if there’s little time and money to invest in an integrated strategy.
Fine, but if you take that route, do it right: force your opinion on others, while crediting the stakeholders for their input. Vanity withheld them from doing the latter. The whole purpose of collaborative planning is to use design as means to visualize different potentials (final states) in order to be able to reflect on alternative strategies (processes) together with all stakeholders involved. Planning and architecture are two distinctly different disciplines. In general, architects don’t make good planners. Those architects that do make good planners, are often not very interested in architecture to begin with. We’ll agree that a project drawing can be a visualization of a future state, but planning most certainly is not merely the process of getting there.
Wait a minute, what exactly is the role of a historian in all of this anyway?!