Modernist planning: What  went wrong?

Modernist planning: What went wrong?

Street view from Jane-Finch (Photo: Tuna Tasan-Kok)

“What went wrong with Bijlmer?” A student asked from the back of the class during the lecture on planning history in the Introduction to Urban Planning course that I’m coordinating at our Bachelor programme in UvA. We were discussing “city scientific”, a period of planning defined by Peter Marcuse (2016) referring to the products of modernity. Amsterdam’s Bijlmermeer project was one of those ‘scientific outputs’ of the era. This made me think of my own experience during a field trip for DIVERCITIES research in Toronto. While driving for the first time through the streets of Jane-Finch neighbourhood, another experimental product of modernist planning, I could immediately understand ‘what went wrong’. Forgotten human scale, disconnected spaces through high-way like infrastructure and borderless/meaningless empty “green” spaces, no shops or places to meet….feeling of loneliness and emptiness, feeling lost and out of place…kind of a feeling that makes you think something terribly wrong has happened. As elaborated elsewhere obsession with creating the ‘perfectly functioning space’ constricted modernist architects’ (like Le Corbusier) view of the people for whom they designed the city in the first place. This was the era where architects were envisioning and designing cities for people. This was before “planning” emerged as a discipline with its roots in diverse social sciences fields. Jane-Finch neighborhood in Toronto was developed as a modernist suburb during the 1960s, based on principles of large green space, wide avenues and high-rise apartment buildings. Today it is one of the most stigmatised neighbourhoods in the city with the largest concentrations of criminal gangs of any area in Canada. Jane-Finch is also one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Toronto, although this does not get as much media coverage as the crime rates. Jane- Finch, houses a large immigrant population and diverse groups, but thanks to its community-planning tradition, some social transformations are taking place there and turning a stigmatised rundown area into a community hub. People of Jane-Finch find their own ways to make connections and create a very strong
feeling of “community”. Read more

Giving voice to planning practitioners

Giving voice to planning practitioners

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee”*: giving voice to planning practitioners is the title of an article published in the Planning Theory & Practice Journal. The abstract is below and you can read the full article at Taylor & Francis Online.

Planning schools follow a more or less similar path in educating young practitioners as true guardians of “public interest.” Although planning theory and education define certain ideal roles for planners along this path (e.g. provider of equal access to urban services, distributor of rights to the city, facilitator, negotiator, reflective practitioner, mediator, decision-maker), the actual role of the practicing planner is shaped by the changing contemporary conditions of political economy. We often describe these as neoliberalism, market-led urban development, opportunism, entrepreneurialism, consumerism, financialization, and so on. The rules of the game in the city are defined by these forces, which influence not only the main field of action in planning, but also the experiences of planners in practice. While planning students are taught to be the guardians of the public interest, in the face of the power relations that are shaped by these dynamics, planners usually lack the power to fulfill that role, which surely frustrates them (Forester, 1982 Forester, J. (1982). Planning in the face of power. Journal of the American Planning Association , 48 , 6780. 10.1080/01944368208976167 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]).

* Muhammad Ali (world heavyweight boxing champion).