Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Planning: An Idea of Value

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Planning: An Idea of Value

Article excerpt

The development of the intellectual basis for planning activity has been a slow and problematic process. This paper seeks to build on existing intellectual understanding to argue that future developments in planning thought must take questions of ethical value as their starting point. The paper is essentially divided into three parts. The first makes the important distinction between planning as a narrow set of regulatory practices and planning as an idea, or more particularly a long-enduring societal activity. It is the latter concept of planning that frames the discussion in the remainder of the paper. The second, in which the core of the argument is developed, explores the nature of planning as an activity; an activity that is centrally concerned with making ethical judgements about better and worse, with and for others, in just institutions. It is about an idea of value. The third section examines the implications of this perspective for planning as a subject of academic endeavour. The argument is illustrated throughout with examples drawn from the author's research.

The genre which is 'the inaugural lecture' comes in many shapes and forms. Having inevitably spent some time reflecting on the choices available, perhaps the safest option takes the form of what might be termed 'the empirical'. In this case the lecture concentrates on presenting the findings of 'something' that one has counted, measured or in some other way interacted with. The dangers with this approach lie in the confirmation of society's caricature of the academic as someone who only sees complexity and despite their 'knowledge' could not be drawn into a recommendation as to the most appropriate course of action. Alternatively, inaugurals involve the more or less coherent piecing together of other (learned) people's comments and observations. Some are content to focus on the 'names' within their own field while others roam more widely. The approach to content can of course also vary, some favouring the general rubbishing of all that has gone before in an attempt to scratch out their own territory. Others prefer to focus on one writer, disseminating the works of this individual within their own discipline. Both approaches bring with them the ease of labelling, a trait that is sadly increasingly perceived to be a precursor to a 'successful' academic career. However, labelling often hides as much as it reveals, replacing listening and understanding with academic sound bites.

In writing an inaugural lecture the author is not only confronted by decisions over content but also over structure and presentation. Such issues are by no means trivial in a societal context which prioritises style over substance and in which structures are supported by a network of performance criteria. Hence the metaphorical, 'laws of the structure of a presentation' may seem to dictate the sequence: 'tell your audience what you're going to say, say it, and then tell them what you've said'. Such an approach is excellent in a culture of performance indicators as it lends itself to the generation of assessment criteria. Checklists can be drawn up asking, 'did this presentation have a beginning, middle and an end?' Aggregate statistics can then be produced specifying the percentage of inaugural lectures in a given year that had a beginning, a middle and an end. The higher the overall percentage, clearly the more confidence there can be in the 'fact' that the rights of inaugural audiences have been protected! Moreover, there is a raft of technologies that support such a culture, the rejection of which often appears not to be a choice.

As a planning academic it is hard not to have at least some doubts over the legitimacy of finding oneself in the position of professing your chair. A. J. P. Taylor, reflecting unfavourably on post-war developments in higher education in Britain, savagely observed that, 'Universities nowadays have Professors of almost everything-Brewing at one, Race Relations at another, Town Planning at a third' (Taylor, 1967, 133). …

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