Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Whither the Planning Theory-Practice Gap? A Case Study on the Relationship between Urban Indicators and Planning Theories

Academic journal article Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management

Whither the Planning Theory-Practice Gap? A Case Study on the Relationship between Urban Indicators and Planning Theories

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION: THE PLANNING THEORY-PRACTICE GAP

"For as long as I can remember people have bemoaned the divorce between planning theory and planning practice" (Alexander 1997: 3). With the above statement, Ernest Alexander introduced his brief commentary on the theory-practice gap in the Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design journal, a commentary which sparked a vivid debate in the journal's subsequent issues (Harris 1997, Allmendinger and Tewdwr-Jones 1997, Alexander 1999). The debate over the planning theory--practice gap was resumed just as vividly a decade later in one of the roundtables of the XXI AESOP conference in Naples (this debate was recorded as a series of papers that were included in the Planning Theory journal) confirming that the theory-practice gap is of great interest to the academic community.

Many researchers have contributed toward the exploration and explanation of this gap, although these contributions range considerably. Philip Allmendinger and Mark Tewdwr-Jones (1997: 804) see planning and planners as being involved in a continuous power 'game', in which planners take advantage of the theory-practice gap, while Neil Harris states that the theory--practice gap is beneficial to the theorists (1997: 800). On the existence of the gap, Alexander claims that the theory-practice gap is unbridgeable (1997: 5), and is mainly produced by theorists who do not elaborate their theories in terms of their applicability (2010: 103). On the other hand, Harris "remain[s] positive that the gap can be bridged" (1997: 800), while Vanessa Watson observes that "over the last several decades planning theory has shifted towards a closer engagement with practice" (2008: 224). Paradoxically, all of the aforementioned positions are valid because of the varying perspectives from which each researcher examines the gap.

However, the current paper is not going to add a new perspective of the theory--practice gap, but instead will try to test if the gap really exists. Such testing would demand an exhaustive survey of all planning knowledge, along with a similarly thorough assessment of practitioners' needs, in order to conclude whether the theory--practice gap stems from the insufficient development of an appropriate apparatus that successfully connects these two parts. Obviously, the scale of such research is impossible (Alexander 1997: 4). However, it is possible to limit ourselves to a single case study, without losing sight of the 'big picture'.

Such a case study could be one that delves into the integration of urban indicators into planning theory. Urban indicators are one of the most common and widely-used tools in worldwide planning practice, characteristic that makes them an appropriate case study for this theory--practice gap research. Moreover, urban indicators were and still are ingrained in planning practice, allowing for the historical perspective in planning theory--practice gap. Do planning theories provide knowledge that practitioners can utilise in order to use urban indicators properly? Or, do planning theories eventually either not provide such knowledge or provide it in very abstract form? Have current planning theories abolished their link to the practice of urban indicators? Is the theory--practice gap shrinking or expanding, relative to indicators practice? Such questions comprise the heart of this inquiry.

For this inquiry the study will initially focus on the evolution of urban indicators in order to ascertain their historical role in planning practice. Then, the study aims to understand the role of urban indicators in planning theory and, especially, the negative or positive emphasis that is given to urban indicators from each of the dominant planning theories of the last 50 years. Based on these two explorations, the study will try to conclude whether the gap still exists and if exists the reasons of its production.

2. THE EVOLUTION OF URBAN INDICATORS

Urban indicators can be distinguished in analytical indicators and planning standards (a more detailed typology can be found in Pissourios 2010: 80-84). …

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