Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Introduction: Strategic Spatial Planning in Uncertainty: Theory and Exploratory Practice

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Introduction: Strategic Spatial Planning in Uncertainty: Theory and Exploratory Practice

Article excerpt

Pas des idées justes, juste une idée.

(Jean-Luc Godard, cited in Deleuze and Guattari, [1980] 1987, 25)

The papers in this issue develop practical and theoretical ideas about strategic spatial planning in uncertainty. This Introduction contextualises the papers in terms of spatial planning and the uncertainties that planning practitioners face as they attempt to cope with the messiness of strategy-making and implementation. The authors explain their understanding of post-structuralism and how it differs from the pragmatist theoretical foundations of other scholars. The five papers are introduced through the use of recurring themes. The Introduction concludes by proposing that post-structuralist ideas can work to improve planning practice in conditions of uncertainty, provided that key elements are in place.

Strategic spatial plans have always been prepared and implemented in the shadow of uncertainty, whether practitioners admit it or not. Plans developed for the longer term - 15 years or more in the UK, 30 years in Hong Kong, 100 years in Auckland and so on1 - have traditionally dealt with uncertainty by reducing its dimensions to those that could be managed by either ignoring, 'fudging' or deflecting other elements. However, rapid changes in contemporary economic, environmental and social conditions are making policy-makers and politicians increasingly aware of the limitations of prescriptive, longer-range plans that specify precise targets for provision of industrial floorspace, housing units and so on. As Hillier writes, 'if one accepts the broad mission of spatial planning as being stewardship of the future wellbeing of the planet - comprising humans, nonhumans and their natural and constructed environments - then planning is faced with challenges posed by both the potential and limitations of that mission' (2010, 2).

Recognising the inevitably static nature of strategic spatial plans, frozen at the time of their finalisation, John Friedmann posed a series of important questions, to which the papers in this Special Issue offer some initial, tentative responses. Friedmann asked:

[W]hat sort of 'guidelines' can a plan provide that is already incongruent with the realities of the region by the time it is officially adopted?

[I]s its purpose ... not to provide effective guidance to operational planning but something else? If so, what is it?

[W]hat would long-range 'planning' look like that does not necessarily terminate in visions, frameworks, and policy guidance for day-to-day decision making? (2004, 54)

The papers in this Special Issue attempt to take forward theoretical and practical ideas about strategic spatial planning in uncertainty. They serve as a bridge between an orientation to the worlds of spatial planning that no longer work very well (as described below) and the generation of a new, more promising orientation, grounded in post-structuralist thinking. Our aims are:

*to offer a post-structuralist theory for strategic spatial planning in uncertainty; and

*to present four first-hand accounts of international empirical cases of poststructuralist planning in practice.

In the remainder of this Introduction, we outline the authors' understandings of the term 'spatial planning' and discuss several tensions between what may be regarded as a traditional raison d'être of strategic spatial planning and current challenges of uncertainty. We argue the case for a post-structuralist approach to spatial planning and explain briefly the key tenets of post-structuralism, which we regard as relevant to planning. Referring to Patsy Healey's recent writing on pragmatism, we suggest that a post-structuralist form of pragmatics may be able to move theoretical and practical debates forward. We preview Jean Hillier's paper, which follows this Introduction, and the four studies of practice attempts to plan, by Alessandro Balducci, Luuk Boelens, Torill Nyseth and Cathy Wilkinson respectively, highlighting themes including uncertainty, experimentation, power and provisionality, before drawing our conclusions. …

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