Urban Planning as a Multicultural Canon
Michael A. Burayidi
Planning is a democratic process through which communities, with the help of planners, are able to determine their felt needs and find ways to address these needs through a deliberative and reflective process. While planners bring their expertise to bear on the deliberations, it is ultimately the community that determines the final outcome of the decisions reached. Since communities differ in their needs and socio-cultural groups within communities seek different ends, it necessarily follows that effective planning would result in a plurality of plans to suit the needs of the diverse public. Planning therefore is a multidimensional and multifaceted profession with sensitivity toward class, race, sex, and culture. This makes planning a multicultural canon.
Given this conclusion, it is puzzling that what constitutes much of the tangible outcomes of plans, the urban physical environment, reflects less of a variation of the diverse cultures in the country. One is hard pressed to find the stamp of Chinese, Japanese, Ukrainian, Italian, or Greek architecture and built forms in U.S. cities where many of these groups reside. This implies that either planners have done a good job in creating a consensus among the diverse ethno-cultural groups in the country or that through coercion, lack of representation, or the muzzling of the voices of nondominant socio-cultural groups, the urban landscape failed to articulate their culture 1 and needs.
Modernist planning in the postwar years did a good job of eliminating the vestiges of cultural identity in urban form and architecture as ethnic enclaves were bulldozed to make way for new development. The current attraction of neotraditional planning is in part a reflection of the rejection of the homogeneity in urban form and architecture that modernist planning produced over the years. In a sense, it is a way of injecting culture back into the built environment and into planning.