I invited planning practitioner Jimme Zoete to my class of yesterday within the framework of a course that I coordinate (Introduction to Urban Planning) to talk simply about what he does as an urban planner who works in the private sector. Jimme works for a consultancy firm (Witteween+Bos) as a Team Leader of Spatial Planning, and he is specialized in environmental topics mainly, which is also his field of expertise. I interviewed him a few years back within the framework of a book project on young planning practitioners. Jimme was also one of the authors of the Interface collection (Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee) I’ve coordinated for the Journal of Planning Theory & Practice. He is a very enthusiastic planner who loves what he does. I want to share that kind of enthusiasm with first year BA students and also give them enough platform to have encounters with practitioners so that they can ask questions they have in mind directly to them. Couple of days ago students interviewed practitioners from all over Amsterdam as an assignment to have their very first encounter with planners. Jimme’s lecture gave them another opportunity to have a conversation with a practitioner in the classroom environment while he shared his daily agenda as an urban planner.
Jimme’s role in the class was to show students role of a planner in real life. I asked the students to keep the previous reading material in mind while listening him. They’ve read Marcuse’s “The three historic currents of city planning” and also Fainstein and DeFillipis’s introduction to the textbook, where they emphasize the importance of planning theory in practice of planning. Having these in mind, the students could pinpoint several links between what they’ve read and heard in previous classes, and what they heard from him. I asked Jimme before he started his lecture whether theory is important for him in his daily practice. He said that it is very important and also he gave an example from a situation he was in last week where he had a disagreement with a more experienced professional who argued that in order to make companies follow the rules there must be more norms enforced by the planning regulations. Jimme said, knowing the context of planning during the modernist era, he could see that top-down measures are not the solution. He was then referring to the companies who played with norms to get away with polluting activities.
Another link the students could have made with the previous lectures is how Jimme emphasized the importance of ‘context’. In my previous lecture, for instance, I mentioned why ‘context dependent interpretations’ are important for planning theory. Within the framework of explaining why social sciences are different from exact sciences, I told them that because of different contexts, same kind of causes may have different results, and that’s why our ‘facts’ may differ in social sciences. Jimme summarized what he does in his practice under 3 kinds of analysis: (1) Environmental impact studies; (2) Location (area) analysis; (3) Stakeholder analysis. While he illustrated with interactive exercises what analytical tools he used (risk analysis, mapping, zoning plan analysis, stakeholder analysis) he also underlined for each type of analysis the context made a difference. Students could also observe the link between the skills of planners I mentioned in my class and skills Jimme presented in relation to how he makes analysis.
At the end of the class I was discussing with some students who wanted to understand how to locate this lecture in their learning process and in relation to the reading material. I told them that this is just an exercise to make small observations about concepts they have learned and reality. They didn’t have to do too much to locate this lecture in their learning experience other than making these small observations such as how ‘technical skills’ mattered for a young practitioner, how some of these skills (like stakeholder analysis) can be used for social transformation or social justice purposes; how he searched for his field of interest during his education and also find a job in the same field he is enthusiastic about; or why theories in planning mattered for him. They could also observed that enthusiasm in professional choices start at the university level. Jimme is one of the founding members of Ekistics, which is a Groningen based association established by planning graduates of the University of Groningen. G.D.P. (Groninger Society of Planners) Ekistics is a Dutch association of Urban Planners that studied or are studying Planning at the University of Groningen. The association was founded in 2008 by three master students. It was named after the concept coined by Doxiadis in 1940 defining a universal language for the size of human settlements. In 8 years Ekistics has grown to 30 members all working or studying in Planning. Its members, called Ekistici, are on average 25 years old and work in diverse fields such as infrastructure, environmental, energy, urban and tourism planning. They work at governments, universities, consultancy firms, contractors etc. Enthusiastic academics, students and practitioners with a range of expertises, make Ekistics a learning and sharing platform. This alone shows how theory matters for planning practitioners as these young professionals still get together to read, discuss and make connections between their daily practice and what they learned in the planning school.
All in all, it was a fantastic opportunity for first year planning students to meet a motivated planner, who loves what he does, and to be able to ask him questions they had in mind. And that was the whole idea of this class, making connections based on this encounter…