Post-Script: I found it!

I managed to answer my own question with how I critiqued the word choice in the abstract. Infract Lindblom uses the word ‘information’ both on page 177 and on page 183 in reference to, what modern thinkers would think of,  as the intermediate step between data and product. The word choice of ‘data’ is an incorrect interpretation of what Lindblom is describing. Since Lindblom’s argument, that the modified version of ‘data’ information, is what is fallible in the system then he is still accurate. Even with the advances in our data processing power, the way in-which information is obtained has not changed.

Planning for people? For land?

This week’s readings raise the question about what is planning theory without the city? Susan Fainstein pointed out that a purely procedural planning theory would not be sufficiently animated to motivate social movements towards a just city. We can see a detachment of process and outcome in the planning field today. I think one of the reasons that causes the detachment would be the divergence of planning opinions over the years. The debate about what should be the center of urban planning has lasted for more than one hundred years: should planning focus on social groups with independent consciousness (people) or physical spatial environment (land)? The arbitrary isolation of people and land in planning approaches has its historical origin. As the object of urban studies, cities have both materiality and sociality. If we look back at planning history, we can see two forking paths of planning practice: one is place-oriented and the other is people-oriented.

Physical environment oriented planning theory and practice has dominated the times before the 1960s. As we discussed in class, Howard’s Garden City, Le Corbusier’s Radiant City and Wright’s Broadacre City were attempts to utilize specifically defined physical urban environments to reform society. The materiality of cities has been their main focus and seen as the drive of good humanity.

The turning point in the planning field came along with Jane Jacob’s milestone book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in the 1960s. In that book, Jacobs attacked modernist urban planning based neither on construction methods nor architectural aesthetics, but “on the principles and aims that have shaped modern, orthodox city planning and rebuilding.” Her powerful words made people reflect on failed planning practice and intricate urban issues, which has triggered a incline from materialism to socialism in the western planning realm. This transition brought up social issues among different interest groups, class, race, gender, and so forth. Also, the role and identity of urban planners seemed more difficult to be defined. Along with the ideological trend of multiculturalism and neoliberalism, the dominant planning theories in the postmodern era were against machine-rationality and attached importance participatory and communicative values. Within the changing context, new planning approaches were proposed and implemented, including incremental planning, communicative planning, and advocacy planning. Base on the reading chapters, we can see each of these planning approaches has its reasonability and limitations. Ironically, their strengths usually become their Achilles’ heels. Compared to rational-comprehensive planning, incremental planning is much more realistic and explicitly define the efforts as incrementalism to achieve short-term goals; but it has been criticized for being too conservative as it aims at moving forward one small step at a time. Advocacy planning is progressive for broadening the planning horizon from land use to social-economic planning; however, it seems to be too radical to merely focus on solving economic and social problems with a lack of consideration to built environment. Communicative planning looks like a good approach to weave contexts, visions, and practice all together; however, its complicity makes it even more difficult to obtain sufficient participation and negotiation. The trend there is the core planning likely moves from one extreme to the other (materiality vs. sociality).

From my perspective, “people” and “land” serve as two core elements of urban planning and do not have conflicts with each other. If we see urban planning as activity to coordinate human needs and space use, both of the two elements are indispensable in the process and result. I agree with Fainstein that planning theory should value both the result (goal as the just city) and the process (the means of attaining the goal). I guess the debate about “people” or “land” would continue. In my opinion, nowadays planning efforts need to find a balance between physical environment and social group concerns.

Normative Planning Theories

Davidoff raises many questions. I only wish I had answers for him. They are questions that have resonated with me. How do planners or an agency best evaluate a plan?

Why are other organizations within a community prepares a plan? Why is no other agency concerned with proposing the strategies and costs required to effect the goals? At the essence of his questioning, he is seeking to understand why others are not actively involved. It also appears that he is writing at a time when there were people actively fighting to be seen as equals, who had suffered and sought to make their voices heard.  

It is incredible to think that so much time has gone by yet we are still faced with similar issues. It is just illustrated differently in our society today. The black lives matter campaign portrays some of the “great issues”. I agree with Davidoff that the issues, not just surrounding justice, have yet to be solved or are far from over. If anything there is more complexity that has been added to an ever growing issue that of diversity and representation of our communities in positions that make these vital and influential decisions, but especially in a field like planning, that have impacts to improve the quality of our environments and our lives. As a planner, we, I feel, have a responsibility to ensure we are actively seeking those voices.

So in looking for this “just” decision, and inclusive process, are we doing everything as planners to make sure that it is being done? I am not sure. Fainstein discusses the participatory planning exercise as “talking shops” and how insufficient it can be. So what can be done to change it?

When Davidoff mentions the planner as advocate, it is not just supporting how the community should develop, it also means actively promoting “what the right course of action” may be. It seems as though what Davidoff promoted and spoke of is the kind of planning we have today. Planners, from the comments of those in our class, have to work with many interest groups like the real estate developers, architects, and community members and compose all these interests into a single plan.

It leads us to think is one plan enough? “Being isolated as the only plan maker in the community, public agencies as well as the public itself may have suffered from incomplete and shallow analysis of potential directions” (Davidoff)

There is a disservice that is done when public agencies are the only ones making plans. I think Davidoff would be pleased at the efforts in not just planning, but architecture, and differents parts of the city, that are collaborating to some degree today. Business Improvement Districts make their own agenda, taking the responsibility for certain aspects of the neighborhoods they represent. It illustrates another avenue that communities can voice their opinions and create plans of their own. This link will take you to see the information on NoMa’s neighborhood. I see these BIDs as agencies that are intended to ensure development of a neighborhood and that their community members are engaged in the activities going on around them.   
There is a place and importance in the outcome, and the end mean of planning, the goal for a just and inclusive procedure, and the only way to do that is to experiment in our methods and approaches to planning. BIDS have developed from the needs of people who know and understand the political process as a lengthy and time consuming one; so they have taken matters into their own hands.

Readings on Modern Urban Planning Theory; homeostasis should be the goal

The readings of Fainstein (2005), Lindblom (1959), Davidoff (1965), Forester (2008), and Healey (2006) examine the evolution of modern planning theory from the early 1900s through the present.  In this week’s blog, I offer some observations of planning theory transformation and the role of the planner, and suggest an option for the way ahead.  As presented, modern planning theories seemed to swing widely between extremes and pulled the planner along with them.  The resulting quest to find a spot on the shifting playing field caused the planning profession to lose some identity and esteem held by other professions.  Planning theory should have the freedom to explore concepts which diverge radically from practiced form.  However, implementation of those concepts should occur in a controlled method.  The stakes of planning remain too high and its effects too expansive to afford capricious implementation.  Metropolitan planning needs a system which maintains homeostasis between theory, built forms, social concerns, and the economy.  The planner could fill this crucial role.

Lindblom’s strategy for justifying a complete departure from the rational planning of the early 1900s left me thoroughly unconvinced.  He attacked rational-comprehensive planning claiming it depends on knowing every outcome and every variable.  He attempted to argue that rational-comprehensive planning cannot possibly produce a viable plan because it demands an omniscient planner.  I disagree.  The planner just needs to clearly document assumptions made in the decision-making process.  In this way, as new information becomes available, the planner can re-evaluate the plan and adjust accordingly.  It almost sounded as if Lindblom was saying that planning is hard so we need a new theory which makes it easy.  I think I can see the source of the dilution of the planning profession which Myers and Banerjee lamented.  Lindblom’s tack took planning in a reactionary direction with very limited exploration of second and third order effects.  In Baghdad, I saw plenty of reactionary planning in the absence of a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the city.  In an attempt to fix 90% unemployment and begin cleaning up the trash which quickly built up in the absence of government services, we initiated day labor programs to clean up the neighborhoods.  Immediately we put vast numbers of Iraqis back to work.  However, within a few days most of the bakeries shut down and we faced a food crisis.  Without a comprehensive plan which linked social needs, urban forms, and the economy, we did not understand nor anticipate the impact of paying the cleanup crews more than the bakers. 

While I disagree with a complete abandonment of comprehensive planning, the post-modern period did show benefits of decreasing the rigid controls of modernity.  The economic growth addressed weaknesses in the market.  Of course, it has come with a price.  Unchecked capitalism has created an unprecedented divide between the classes and has concentrated power in the hands of the very few.  We now need to bring back some controls of modernity and employ techniques like Davidoff’s advocate planners to bring power back to the underserved and focus on public interest.  This does not mean we should turn our back on post-modern and communicative thinking.  Like the medicine profession continues to evolve and gain new techniques from a theoretical base, so too can the planning profession.  We need to understand the techniques used successfully under each planning thought and employ them strategically to keep the urban environment in balance and on a general path toward a vision of public interest.  As Healey describes in her article, the transitions during the modern planning period have highlighted the inseparable relationship between economic, physical, and policy planning.  The planning profession can reinforce its relevance by producing planners who can develop plans with sufficient detail to anticipate these relationships and develop measures of effectiveness which will alert the need for checks and balances.   

I did not find the pure forms of any of the modern planning theories to have realistic application potential.  However, elements of each have merit and could provide the planner with the modalities for addressing imbalance and restoring homeostasis.  Taking on the responsibility of monitoring and maintaining symbiosis between urban forms, public interest, and the economy would clearly establish the value of the planning profession.

To Whom Does the City Belong?

Tonight I attended a prescreening of a new HBO documentary titled Class Divide that perfectly exemplified and theorized the issues woven into this week’s readings. The documentary covered the West Chelsea development in Manhattan that has left the community divided by a street. On the developed side, a high income academy was developed from an old turkey slaughter house that costs students upwards of $50,000 a year. On the other side, the Elliot Housing projects, a low income high rise that exemplifies the hurdle that public housing projects have become for so many urban residents in the U.S..


The documentary highlighted perspectives from both the poor and wealthy, black and white to uncover the conflict that is developing in so many of our urban centers. Seeing all of the drama played out made me ask the question, to whom does this city belong?

Is it the developers? Because after all, the rules of American capitalism and it’s real estate market dictate that the highest dollar takes the day. Or is it who was there first? The people who live in the projects have a great deal of entitlement to their community and maybe they should, HBO certainly thinks so.

This week’s reading provided particularly valuable in my reflection on this issue and the issue of gentrification at large. How power is located and how it is managed by the city planning authorities is important and should bring with it the serious consideration of this very question of who does the city belong to?

You see, without first answering this question, it really doesn’t matter how we organize power because without this answer, we have no reasoning for why were organizing power. Forrester’s compelling assessment of planning argued that the most dynamic planning is experienced when there is high participation by the community and a highly effective deal making. This was what he characterized as “mediated negotiations.”

Following the viewing of the documentary, HBO and the Urban Institute held a panel of contributors that included Scott Kratz, Director of the 11th Street Bridge project. The 11th street bridge park is currently being constructed over the Anacostia River but Kratz’s efforts noted on this panel had to do with the community engagement. Kratz made the community the approval board.


Kratz unabashedly avows the concept that communities don’t have the tools to drive the process of development. Building community capacity to uphold their own rights and organize are key to ensuring that the free market doesn’t run amuck on their community. Kratz cited the development of Home Buyers Clubs and community land trusts as ways to make a community more engaged, knowledgeable and unified.


Much of the critique leveled by Davidoff and and Fainstein on the process of participatory planning is founded. Left to its own devices and used in communities with a weak sense of identity, democratizing planning can be a bit like hearding cats. Planning must by DYNAMIC and it must be impactful, otherwise we should expect the same lackadaisical approach to the typical planning commission meeting.

For all of the things that impoverished communities may lack, they do maintain a strong sense of identity that I don’t think you will find in more developed, transient communities. And I think this distinction could make all the difference. Community engagement and community unity can create the type of cohesion to bring alternative plans and legitimate visions to the table; not unlike what Davidoff proposed through his vision of plural planning. Educating and empowering communities to serve as active stakeholders in the development process can help to create smart growth and more effectively respect those to whom the city actually belongs.

Guyan | Week 6

Pluralism in planning makes a lot of sense to me. I haven’t considered many of the ideas that Davidoff had presented in his article. More opinions and viewpoints can help to create a more diverse and creative solution, no matter the problem. In planning this could definitely help to create a better product for the citizens. The citizens would benefit from multiple plans. I think there were two striking points that stood out to me in the article, party planning and the lawyer style of planning.

Basing planning goals on party alliances and specific government styles seems to be very unique to me. I don’t know if it would work in practice, but it seems to make sense that a more conservative approach would be pitched by a Republican planner and a more liberal style of design could be envisioned by a Democrat planner. These competing interests would hopefully work together to find common-ground solution that would benefit the society. In actuality, I’m not sure it would be that simple. Party alliances today are very divisive and there doesn’t seem to be any interest in working together. This could lead to an almost stalemate in planning strategies if neither side wants to work together. Or in a heavily conservative or liberal area, the extreme measures of the majority party may dominate the planning field and produce extreme designs for their own benefit. Maybe then, the party alliance style of planning wouldn’t work.

I liked the idea of planners pitching ideas that they themselves might not support. If they are forced to consider all options and lay out the facts, even if they may not specifically support it, then society will be able to make the best-informed decision for their area. This is a grand idea that could seem to be easily implemented. The problem I see, though, is that it requires the public support. If planners spend the time to consider all options, then there better be involvement from the public to make it all worthwhile. From some of the discussions in class, it seems like that is not always the case. I know I haven’t been to any regular planning meeting before, nor do I know anyone else that actively participates. So would the benefit of pluralism and researching all sides of the argument actually benefit society?
The biggest problem I see is that the biggest obstacle to any planning strategy is the owner of the property or the developer. The best planning whether it is unitary, pluralism, or some other creative structure of planning, is only as good as what can be built. And what can be built is usually decided by the economics of the decision. On a micro level, I know how challenging it can be to work with an owner. I have tried to pitch good ideas about a trail placement on a project. I wanted to separate it from the road by crossing underneath, and had very good reasons for my decision. The owner was concerned with the cost, maintenance, and safety of the structure. It can be challenging to work through to a solution and that owner will make the ultimate decision. I can see that being a challenge for planners on most other projects trying to get their designs implemented. For especially lofty plan, you almost need focus on working to provide incentives to get the products you want.

Normative Planning Theories

Each author of this week’s readings tackles the various types and processes of planning. What is the fundamental purpose of planning? How can planners most effectively leverage public participation and manage interest groups to achieve progress? Fainstein parallels Beauregard’s assertion that “planning theorists delved more and more into an abstract process isolated from social conditions and planning practice. Few planning theorists concern themselves with the physical city.” Fainstein and Healey seek to overcome the divided between planning practice and the process that communities can achieve the “good city.” Fainstein argues inclusionary and participatory planning processes are important normative principles, but insufficient to achieve substantial progress and “does not deal adequately with the classic conundrums of society.” Planners have, according to Fainstein, focused too much on process. Similar to Fainstein, Forester says open public participation isn’t enough if it doesn’t lead to substantive outcomes. Participation must include effective negotiations (defined as cooperative mutual gain agreements). In debate, each side engages in posturing to support their claims and disprove the other side. In dialogue, participants seek understanding of each other’s positions, but negotiation goes a step further seeking an agreement upon a course of action. After writing about a planning meeting in my hometown of Frederick, MD last week, I can’t help but notice the lack of “negotiations.” The time for public comment was highly structured with a very limited amount of time as if the purpose was to check a box on the agenda and get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. There was no genuine dialogue or negotiations between the two sides debating the building of the hotel and convention center as the planners and developers largely remained silent during the public comment period.

Lindholm and Davidoff each critiqued comprehensive planning, yet in very different ways. Davidoff argues for advocacy planning by city planners. Advocacy of alternative plans by outside groups would inform the public and force competition among groups to win political support for their plan. According to Davidoff, the values of the planner should be made clear.  For Lindoholm, comprehensive wrongly assumes intellectual capacity and sources of information that policy makers do not possess. As a result, he argues for incremental planning. Democracies change their policies not in massive transformational policy moves, but small incremental steps. Policy making is an inherently messy process as social scientists do not yet know the consequences of every policy decision, resulting in smaller, trial and error policy implementations.

Lindholm’s incremental planning theory relates a term in political science called path dependency, meaning present-day decisions are limited by policy decisions made in the past and extremely difficult to change. For example, transportation policies are limited by path dependency because of the physical and financial resources needed. Path dependence in transportation planning and decision-making is a barrier that directly prevents city planners from achieving sustainable transportation goals. For the U.S. especially, decades of automobile-centric urban and suburban form have locked many American cities onto a path of dependence on the automobile. Because of the path dependent nature of transportation policy, each day spent committing our cities to cars is an opportunity lost with sustainable transportation by bicycle, more congestion, and more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Many cities in the U.S. have begun trying to implement more bicycle infrastructure, for example, but finding that changing urban forms (adding separate bike lanes) and attitudes is difficult. In these cases, I believe planners can learn from the incremental approach. While a noble goal to radically transform the urban environmental in favor of sustainable transportation, a quick transition is not based in reality given the history of transportation policy in the U.S.


Portland, OR is one of the few cities in the U.S. to implement completely protected bike lanes. For most cities, bike lanes still have very little protection from vehicle traffic.