Business elites and urban development: case studies and critical perspectives

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For each of these aspects, we try to select a basic group of interpretations and proposals as a synthesis of the critical and argumentative work carried out until now briefly defined as follows: the priorities and technical forms of a more rigorous, effective system of rules, together with a model of governance that may ensure its legitimacy and political viability; the construction of influential visions for spatial and social development that can steer the course of urban transformations even in the absence of cogent constraints the missed target of many current structural or strategic frameworks ; the improving of urban projects in relation to context meant not only in a physical sense but regarding life possibilities.

The fifth and last part of the book draws some conclusions from the long discussion. They are of two kinds, one of which concerns critique and the other proposals. In the first place Chapter 24 it seems necessary to radically reconsider the most recent trends in spatial planning according to the interpretations formulated by influential schools of planning.

These positions appear too self-referential and exhortatory — too weak and elusive — to be able to guide innovative, sustainable and effective practices. If this is what planning theory has achieved, it should be noted that it does not represent any real progress in relation to the kind of urban planning that was so summarily criticised; it is merely an ideology tending towards a conformist viewpoint that cannot be falsified or that risks justifying most current practices.

Instead, a more powerful paradigmatic vision should be chosen from an interpretative, critical and design-oriented point of view. References and reasons will not be found only in the planning field, but in a more open, problematic space where different traditions of research and intervention intermingle. Our view is outlined in Chapter 25 as a synthesis of the previous discussion. It is a debatable but clear choice in favour of a pragmatic culture based on critical realism, policy inquiry, an idea of design as collective action and a reformist culture of the possible as its fundamental principles.

It is a position that is coherent with some contemporary planning approaches, but not with just any one and in particular not with the more eclectic and conformist ones.

This conclusion probably does not represent an original discovery but a selective recalling of certain interpretations and proposals that emerged in several fields of experimentation and had been undeservedly neglected by the prevailing trends in international planning. Perhaps today it is clearer that in crucial phases, this culture embarked on erroneous paths which proved to be unjustified, elusive and ineffective. This occurred on at least two watershed occasions: the rationalist trend during the s and s and then the communicative-collaborative one at the turn of the new century.

Business Elites and Urban Development Case Studies and Critical Perspectives

To overcome these errors is indispensable and possible if we wish to give new social relevance to planning institutions. The way forward, in our opinion, is to reframe reflective, critical and design-oriented pragmatism as a movement of thinking and action which, thanks to these criteria, should no longer be understood as a negation of planning Healey et al.

Particular emphasis will be placed on the British and American movements inspired by the critique of existing traditions and having the goal of finding innovative visions. The object of the criticism was the dominant town planning tradition during the first part of the twentieth century, both in its rigorously modernist forms and in its organic variants Unwin, ; Abercrombie, For more than one reason, which we will comment in due course, that framework no longer seemed satisfactory at mid-century.

The interpretation of the problems at hand was not convincing anymore, nor was the repertory of possible solutions. Many limits seemed to depend upon the fact that planning tasks were prevalently entrusted to the traditional figures of engineers and architects. Innovative hypotheses emerged first in the United States, on the basis of the Social Engineering movements at the beginning of the century, and later with the great impetus of rationalist culture and technological development during the Second World War and its aftermath Akin, ; Noble, ; Nelson, These positions garnered great attention especially in Great Britain in the s and s with a certain delay compared to the United States, where the Chicago School with its innovative attempt to apply rational analysis to public policy had already run its course Perloff, , ; Friedmann, ; Hall, The Reader, edited by Andreas Faludi in , is a fundamental document from this period Faludi, a.

It is an intelligent selection of the principal positions expressed in the international literature, especially in the United States during the post-war decades. A weak common thread lay in the attempt to provide a foundation for urban P.

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Among the various, often incongruous, cultural movements explored at the time, the author had no doubts about expressing his preference for the rationalist paradigm. Accordingly, planning was to be understood as the application of scientific method to decision-making. Surprisingly, the author adopted this point of view and then defended it at length Faludi, , , , even though many insidious objections were already evident. To this end, he made use of various argumentative devices making important adjustments to his course; but he did not want to give weight to the strong signs of crisis that these positions had been showing for some time in their original contexts.

They enjoyed a temporary revival during wartime, when rational analytic methods contributed to effectively solving a variety of problems of collective interest Simon, , ; Downs, ; Raiffa, , ; Ackoff, But they very soon demonstrated their insurmountable limitations regarding the managing of spatial development in mature western societies.

However, the attempt to found a rationalist planning paradigm was not successful. As we had foreseen at the time Palermo, , , the rationalist interpretation of planning problems proved groundless and ineffective for several reasons. Other directions were explored in order to legitimate planning within the social sciences. Plural, often parallel, routes emerged leading to the configuration of a vast variety of potential paradigms. A new difficulty arose in defining a coherent, shared framework that could put order to the plural positions and enable comparative evaluation and choice.

According to Hillier and Healey a , planning theory only took shape as a disciplinary domain in the s in Great Britain and it was mainly as a taxonomic study. It was a classificatory description of the empirical variety in the fields of planning theory and practice rather than a real attempt to identify convincing orientations and evaluations — that is to defend some positions rather than others. An exemplary contribution — as serious as it was unfortunately inconclusive — was documented in the text, edited in Oxford by Healey, McDougall and Thomas, which represented the plurality of noteworthy positions Healey et al.

The central theme was the evaluation of the new, but already declining, rationalist currents in comparison to the continental tradition of political economy. While this last branch of thinking was able to offer important contributions to the critical interpretation of the interests, power and conflicts driving urban and environmental processes, it did not seem capable of guiding strategies and actions of public intervention with equal clarity. The authors sought, above all, to re-establish dialogue among, and comparison to, the different traditions without immediately expecting to reach shared opinions.

In reality, the diversity of voices was recorded without important innovation or hope for future integration. The two worlds — of critical interpretation and rational decision-making — continued to confront each other without learning how to communicate in significant ways.

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The contrast between the interpretative analyses of economic and political systems and the methodological tendencies of planning as a rational link between knowledge and action remained strong. The break between rationalist, or structural, conceptions of planning and new experiences that were then topical — such as transactive planning in the United States Friedmann, ; Alexander, or the pragmatic trends so widespread in practice — also remained solid Bolan, , , ; Hoch, a, b, , ; Hoch et al.

Transactive planning kindled little confidence as a contingent ideological trend that was not destined for important development.

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Pragmatic approaches appeared as a negation of the very spirit and task of planning. Many theoretical attempts to provide foundations and effectiveness for planning policy were clearly not successful if the pragmatic view was still the prevalent trend in practice. In truth, from a theoretical standpoint, this thinking appeared weak. As we will discuss later, to consider interactive and communicative practice in this over-simplified way does not allow us to grasp the important issues and innovative opportunities.

Eric Reade in Healey et al. Too often disciplinary studies cannot describe real practices; they do not have normative value as effective guidelines for planning processes and they cannot indicate acceptable models for planning innovation. In many cases, they are only ideal types, meaning they are oversimplifying representations that extol selected themes and partial relations within a complex reality. His well-known contribution was an extensive, although incomplete, review of multiple approaches, which might seem ecumenical owing to the comparative evaluations and critical opinions regarding the positions examined.

He did, however, express a preference — perhaps more ideological than well justified — for those transactive conceptions of planning that his British colleagues had dismissed as minor deviations. The planning idea that Friedmann seemed to prefer was a radical one, essentially based on the capacities for self-organisation and emancipation by local communities even to the detriment of the role of public intervention and expert knowledge.

Critical argumentation is somewhat limited; and some visions and proposals seem ideologically oriented. What came into play was the theme of correct argumentation and deliberation in a public arena, which should respond to certain ideal criteria of autonomy, information and dialogue between the different subjects involved. Through successive oversimplifications, consensus-building procedures and techniques were based on this ideal model.

According to some, they were destined for widespread influence Forester, ; Innes, , , ; Healey, , a.

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Edifying models of collaborative planning should represent the solution that was theoretically most promising. It is a shame that supporters of these proposals seem to forget the teaching of earlier political economy studies, clearly underestimating the influence of interests, power and conflicts on real planning processes.

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It is a shame that the real dynamics of relationships between actors, institutions and social and spatial contexts which continuously transcend the simple ideal-type models were ignored. Those dynamics were, however, well investigated by planning movements inspired — on the contrary — by critical pragmatism. We consider the collaborative approach to be an exhortatory vision destined to peter out in a short time without significant and enduring effects.

Like 20 years earlier Healey et al. The intention once again seemed to be that of re-establishing a dialogue between an eclectic variety of positions, but not accumulating coherent common knowledge. After almost 20 years of enthusiastic experiments, the scarcity of indisputable results does not appear to be a problem for planning scholars. The collaborative approach is not, however, the final point of arrival. Other research can already be spotted, but — paradoxically for a discipline seeking sound foundations — they are mostly post-modern or clearly irrationalist tendencies!

If we reconsider this tortuous, unstable path, there are many good reasons for proclaiming the crisis of this planning theory. The attempt to find a base for planning in the social sciences was not successful, weakening the links with the architectural tradition. The two most ambitious interpretations subsequently failed. Not only does it seem essential, in our opinion, to recover the relationships with physical transformations, but as far as the contribution of the social sciences is concerned, it seems useful to reinstate the critical pragmatism position which Faludi, Healey and others underestimated in its earliest phases.


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