Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Rethinking Planning Theory and Practice: A Glimmer of Light for Prospects of Integrated Planning to Combat Complex Urban Realities

Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Rethinking Planning Theory and Practice: A Glimmer of Light for Prospects of Integrated Planning to Combat Complex Urban Realities

Article excerpt

1. Why Theory?

Although not useful on its own merits, theory is crucial in providing the needed frame of reference. The reliance on theory tends to provide organization to the field and a systematic guidance in cases of disagreements. It also provides a system of knowledge organization to clearly delineate the boundaries and parameters for each distinct subject, which provides a knowledgebase for the development of future research and the expansion of the field. With the help of theories, future research can build upon theories of the past that have been developed as a reaction against previous and existing planning thinking and practice. Otherwise, an intellectual community at a given time, not fully aware of what has been already done before, will always tend to start from scratch in their quest for new knowledge.

2. Why Planning Theory?

Planning is unique and its uniqueness stems partially from the inability to be defined in a single, narrow definition that fits it all. This is because planners are not a single entity that could fit into one category, nor can they fully agree on what planning really is. Rather, planners can vary across a continuum of interests, ranging from environmentalists and advocates, to even developers. These aspects of planning appear to differ, or even contradict each other, a great deal. For instance, environmentalists often clash with developers regarding issues pertinent to preserving the integrity of the environment. Although both sides theoretically agree on the principle of environmental protection, practical application almost always suggests otherwise. Recognizing the aforementioned difficulty in defining the field of planning, a number of reasons are identified to support the definition of a clear planning theory. First, the defining differences that strongly characterize planning personify an enduring tension, and some times an overlap, between planning and other disciplines. Due to the fact that there is no such thing as indigenous planning theory, planning tends to borrow ideas and principles from other practices, which caused confusion about the very purpose, role, and task of planning as a profession (Allmendinger, 2002). This trifecta of tension, overlap, and confusion, calls for the need to develop a sound and independent body of thought as planning theory. A well-defined planning theory is, therefore, an essential component of the planning profession.

Theories of planning, however, mean different things to different people. Practitioner planners tend to generally view theories as useless in their practical endeavors. Conversely, planning academicians tend to view, and heavily rely on, theories as an integral part of the planning profession. Put differently, academicians seem to be more inclined to employing a great deal of theories, regardless of their practical benefits, whereas practitioners have more propensity towards avoiding theories in general, regardless of how beneficial they could be to their practice. This partially contributed to the gap between theory and practice. Having said this, a second reason is related to the fact that fostering a well-defined planning theory tends to narrow the gap between theory and practice, which originated, for the most part, because of lack of an appropriate body of theory, accompanied by the tendency to undermine the importance of theories in general. With this in mind, defining a body of thought for planning theory serves as a vehicle to enhance the ability of planners in comprehensively addressing important practical issues based on a holistic understanding of the larger picture within which these issues are often generated and evolved. Consequently, I argue that, contrary to popular belief, current and future planning practice would benefit greatly from theory and contribute to the expansion and development of existing theories.

Third, the purpose of defining this body of thought for planning theory is to delineate clear boundaries to such a unique profession that are missing and needed, within which planners can recognize and solidify their identity as planners and find guidance to the many problems confronting them. …

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