Postmodern Planning Theory and the Current Planning Agenda

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Postmodern Planning Theory and the Current Planning Agenda
University of Liverpool School of Environmental Sciences The Dept. of Civic Design The Gordon Stephenson Building 74 Bedford Street South Liverpool Merseyside L2 2DH

April 2010

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…the scope, content and direction of planning are shaped by political struggles, at various spatial scales, in which the protagonists (and lines of cleavage) arise from the conflicts of interest in capitalist society…(Thomas 1999)

This paper aims to engage in the developing form of the modern day planning system and how this relates to the concept of postmodernism. The difficulty of providing postmodernism with a finite description is explored, while the primary components of the postmodern debate are discussed and related to contemporary society.

The following report firstly provides a contextual backing to postmodernist theory, this foundation is then developed with a discussion on how the current planning system and its component parts goes toward meeting the demands of postmodern theory. The element of community and urban design supplements the postmodern planning debate, where architectural preference is referred to as an indicator of changing styles of governance. The paper then concludes with a view on the current state of the planning system and how this view has been informed by postmodern values.

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Postmodernism in context

Planning as a profession endures much critisism for the role it plays in shaping prevalent urban issues. However, Planning as a tool has never was never intended solve issues of urban blight (Allmendinger 2003). The ideologists of the planning and design profession believed a multitude of concepts were the answer to ongoing urban ills. However, the mechanistic nature of planning was and is solely intended to support the governing capitalist superstructure and

accompanying political framework.

The image of Planning as a profession as founded in elitist circles by individuals with a knowledge above and beyond the common city dweller still prevails. The idea that these appointed individuals create responses to arising urban issues creates friction in that it is highly contested as to how a single man or woman is able to deem what is right and proper for an increasingly fractured, disjointed population (Allmendinger 2003).

The postmodern view represents an understanding of modernity, and the changing political nature of the planning system since its inception.

Postmodernism with specific emphasis on the post war period of the 1950ʼs began to realise a post industrial era, one of increasing globalisation, and a compression of the time-space analogy at the hand of developing technologies. The changing face of the planning system through the post war era increasingly centred around principles of rationality and empiricism, Thatcherism and the ever growing presence of globalisation has culminated in an incremental course of development which fails to meet the quickening pace of contemporary living. The postmodern view acknowledges the organic, piecemeal nature of the current planning system and aims to make a resurgence back to the pre-global concept of urban living appreciating local prosperity and spontaneous human interaction in the creating of well functioning, cohesive communities.

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Postmodernism and the current Planning model

Post Modern planning theory provides a new theoretical perspective on previous planning thought; it represents a paradigm shift inspired by revolutionary change. The post modern planning and design movement has created an alteration of the fundamental way in which we view the functioning of society, with this the

planning system acknowledges components of moral judgement, political influence and aesthetic value as playing a crucial role (Taylor 2006).

The shift from modernism to postmodernism from the 1960ʼs to the 1980ʼs engaged with the ubiquitous presence of cultural values that seemed to alter, along with the more technocratic governed arm of the planning system. The 60ʼs saw a transition from more traditional urban design planning principles toward rational planning thought from thereon the role of the planner began to change (Taylor 2006). The idea of planning as a practical art became superseded by the systems approach and a more sterile look at the delivery of spaces and the process of the delivery. A more distinct concentration was placed on the functional requirements of space as opposed to the ephemeral uses of parties which a single space or collection of spaces entertain.

The shift away from viewing towns and cities on an aesthetic, geographic, morphological level to one of potential socio-economic activity and development, suggested the requirement for the intervention of scientific analysis grounding any emergent governing processes in empiricism. The introduction of a broader, strategic level of planning supported by the rational decision making process required a range of skills additional to that of the traditional planner, designer.

In todayʼs planning system the planner plays the role of facilitator or mediator (Taylor 2006) where the technical expertise of the planner are supplemented by a host of external parties involved in the planning process, now championed through the partnership approach.

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A fragmented understanding of contemporary problems only generates fragmented solutions (Ellin 2006); in response to this quote it is seen that the failure to address perpetuating levels of social and economic deprivation in a holistic fashion has led to a pattern of fragmented management which the current multifaceted nature of the modern planning system aims to rectify.

This multifaceted approach is supported by the emergence of what Ellin Describes as administrative hybrids reflected in the growing resonance of the partnership approach throughout the modern planning system. Current

partnership schemes between government, public and private organisations manage a great deal of transit and housing and cultural development opportunities. This newly founded system of interdisciplinary practice is afforded by the incremental approach toward building city regions. The LDF portfolio with the core strategy at its heart is supplemented by the potential addition of development plan and supplementary planning documents. Such components enable a tailored approach to urban planning and facilitate a celebration of individuality as advocated for by both social activist Jacobs (1961) and Ellin. The term postmodern when associated with planning practice and the evolution of the planning system proves somewhat of an oxymoron. The concept of postmodernism in itsʼ purest sense is that there is no single legitimising definition that gives the movement credence. Postmodernism as a cultural shift that influences the way we govern our cities is intended to be at best defined as the multiplicity of interrelations involved in urban living (Oranje, 2002), a concept exempt of categorical exactness. Due to the free reign of the postmodern era and transitional population governed by increasingly flexible political regimes, the planning system as a guiding mechanism is too adjusting to the ephemeral state of local, regional and national socio-economic development. The current portfolio structure that is the modern Local Development Framework affords increased variability in planning and governance with the notion of spatial planning and regional specificity being pushed to the forefront of the planning agenda. The concept of spatial planning is therefore meant to reflect the

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distinctive nature of individual localities of which the LDF system claims to achieve.

The postmodern questioning of the efficacy of the modernist planning system is challenged by Michael Dear (1995, p.28, cited in Healy et al., 1995):

Postmodernismʼs principal target has been the rationality of the modern movement, especially its foundational character, its search for the universal truth… the postmodern position is that all meta-narratives are suspect; that the authority claimed by any single explanation is ill-founded, and hence should be resisted. In essence, postmodernists assert that the relative merit of any one meta-narrative over another is ultimately undecidable; and by extension, that any such attempts to forge intellectual consensus should be resisted.

Post Modern theory therefore argues for a theory that is grounded in a gross consideration for all aspects of 21st Century living; resisting the need to create socially divisive mechanisms as a result of the developing role of market forces and political restructuring.

Postmodern Design

Governing social principles in a then current state of flux are constantly characterised by a growing shift in architectural preference. The changing penchant for design has marked a reversion back to pre-modernist elements, forming a strong stance against the modernist monolithic block with itʼs overbearing scale and massing; building envelopes defined by simple geometric shapes that prove severely unsympathetic in relation to human dimensions.

As the planning system accepts the challenge of meeting the issues presented by contemporary living Kumar (1995) asserts a shared view of architectural practice in stating that postmodern architecture seeks

To break down modernist distinctions between ʻhigh and ʻlowʼ culture, ʻeliteʼ and ʻmassʼ art. In place of the autocratic imposition of a monolithic taste it accepts a

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diversity of ʻtaste culturesʼ, whose needs it tries to meet by offering a plurality of styles.

The concept of modern architecture is essentially one of geometric functionalism as much as postmodernism is concerned with the aesthetic potential of place, postmodern reasoning goes deeper. The theory argues that rationality and

comprehensive building responses to a rational planning remit cannot properly consider transient populations and social cohorts that are constantly in a state of flux.

Jane Jacobs in her publication The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) had spontaneity and variety in social interaction at the crux of her argument. Jacobs posed questions as to whether rational planning models were able to deliver more organic, incremental forms of community development that contribute to the vitality of a place in the truest sense.

With the controlling thread of vitality and spontaneity post modern planning theory challenges all meta-narratives on the grounds that one single intellectual consensus cannot be held as widely applicable to an environment that delivers so many variables. That said, postmodern planning theory is a celebration of complexity, diversity, pluralism and the richness of experience, not reflected in the modernistic austere interpretation of city spaces. These values twin

postmodernism with liberalism and the concept of a pluralist society formed around the realisation of free choice (Taylor 2006).

Ellin (2006) comments on the principles of Integral urbanisation a concept that aims to describe the active components of the urban, necessary to create cohesive functioning systems – the synergism of connection, communication and celebration, of intense, hybrid spaces that encourage a convergence of uses.

The city over the past century has been used for very distinct purposes primarily utilised for sheltering and protecting, urban nuclei have since evolved into machines for moving people, money and goods (Ellin 2006). With the same controlling theory as Jacobs (1961), Ellin remarks on the mutually independent

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nature of people and the related multiplicity of forms the city adopts. Developing this relationship these same cities and their respective communities only become sustainable where their interdependencies are allowed to flourish, constantly stimulating the level of dynamism on display within city spaces (Ellin 2006).

The creation of identity and maelstrom of cultural forms that contribute to the construction of place is best described by Harvey (2003) as a culmination of electronic signifiers of cinema, television and video, recording studios and record players, fashion and youth styles, images that are daily mixed, recycled and “scratched” together on that giant screen that is the contemporary city. It is this multiplicity of discourses that the modern planning system and associated design principles of the current planning system are aimed to entertain, with intent to widen the urban tolerance for difference (Harvey 2003). On a critically practical level the postmodern concept as Jacobs details in Death and Life (1961) should encourage policies and a system of governance that encourages spontaneous self-diversification among urban populations. This self-diversification and celebration of lower level empowerment is at the forefront of the current planning debate; with the potential for a newly elected government to deem local level authorities and their component communities the right to decide how to structure and govern the communities within which they live.

The tool of masterplanning is widely utilised when considering citywide development as a mechanism for the re-stitching of an apparently fragmented urban fabric. It is criticized through a postmodern lens as a managerial, administrative tool that operates irrespective of the cultural identity within any given urban or city region. There is scope for masterplanning however, to

reintroduce holistic synergy to the city. Masterplanning suggests an American zonal approach to development, however an urban vision does not have to represent a separation of activities, moreover it affords the opportunity to introduce more efficient permeability and movement systems that support the vitality and vibrancy of urban spaces.

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Conclusion Despite emerging systems of governance the planning system as we know it remains a system that supports the controlling capitalist structure and ruling economic function of the country (Oranje, 2002). A separation between vested, fiscal interests and a genuine appreciation for the strengthening on community cohesion proves all but impossible in a forum of global economisation.

The postmodern debate represents the broadening of intellectual horizons (Zukin 2003). Postmodern theory emerges from the merging of transdisciplinary practice that collectively contributes to the morphing of the planning and design profession (Zukin 2003). The postmodern movement begins to appreciate the multiplicity of cultural forms developing nationwide, thus resisting the possibility of developing fragmented, disjointed societies, tending more toward a nation of shared culture, or at least, an appreciation of one another through the governing principles of urbanism delivered through the modern planning system.

Changing capitalist, market led forces are reflected in the form and structure the current planning system adopts. With the aim to make the current system inherently more flexible and geographically responsive, the link between capital value and social governance remains prominent. The current remit for economic development and rectifying the levels of spatially uneven economic progression is somewhat grounded in postmodern theory with the appreciation for urban environments that function independently as a result of unique social systems specific to a place. Furthermore, on a global scale, the postmodern agenda incorporates the redesigning of socio-spatial patterns at the hand of reworked investment and industrial patterns and the resultant patterns of social migration (Urry 1987).

The creation of identity and place is represented in postmodern theory and provides planners with a multidisciplinary base of which to form material development around. The postmodern agenda revisits the importance of the city nucleus and appreciates the potential for the consumption of albeit increasingly marketed culture (Zukin 1982).

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… town planning exists to improve the world, not just to understand it. Therefore the philosophical reflection on the purposes of planning, such as that which postmodernism has prompted, is also central to planning theory. In other words, normative theory – including moral and political philosophy – is also a proper part of town planning theory.

(Taylor 2006)

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Allmendinger P. Planning in Post Modern Times Routledge, London. 2003 Allmendinger P. & Tewdwr-Jones M. Planning Futures: New Directions for Planning Theory Routledge, London. 2002 Chapter 9: Planning and the Postmodern Turn Mark Oranje

Cuthbert A. R., Designing Cities: Critical Readings in Urban Design Blackwell, London, 2003. Chapter 3: The Postmodern Debate Over Urban Form Sharon Zukin Urry J. Some social and spatial aspects of services. Environment and Planning: Society and Space, 5, 5-26. 1987. Zukin, S. Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 1982 Chapter 7: Social Justice, Postmodernism and the City. David Harvey Jacobs J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities New York, Vintage. 1961

Ellin N., Integral Urbanism Routledge, Oxon. 2006

Healey, P., Cameron, S., Davoudi, S., Graham, S. and Mandani-Pour, A. (editors) 1995: Managing Cities: The New Urban Context. Chichester, Wiley

Kumar K., From Post-Industrial to Post-Modern Society. New Theories of the Contemporary World Blackwell, London. 1995

Taylor, Nigel Urban Planning Theory Since 1945 Sage Publications. London. 2006

Thomas H., Planning and the Planning profession, in Greed C., Social Town Planning Routledge, London. 1999

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