Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Strategic Navigation: In Search of an Adaptable Mode of Strategic Spatial Planning Practice

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Strategic Navigation: In Search of an Adaptable Mode of Strategic Spatial Planning Practice

Article excerpt

In face of a dizzying pace of change, radical uncertainty and emergent policy effects there have been calls for more open, dynamic and adaptable alternatives to the modernist institutional legacy of strategic spatial planning practice. Here a case is explored where planners responsible for Melbourne's metropolitan planning sought to operationalise such an approach to strategic spatial planning following release of a new metropolitan strategy. They termed this approach 'strategic navigation'. Operationalisation of strategic navigation required: a reconceptualisation of the role of strategic planning; a codification of the subsequent organisational implications through the draft business planning process, including different priorities with respect to the knowledge and relationships, tools and practices that planners rely on to inform their situated judgement; and the identification and informal pursuit of leverageable strategies as a way to enact adaptability.

The Urban Age is happening at a dizzying pace and with a scale, diversity, complexity and level of connectivity that challenges traditional paradigms and renders conventional tools and practices obsolete. (Katz et al., 2006)1

Blueprint master plans, predictive land use transport models and linear demographic projections are just some of the tools of strategic spatial planning practice that emerged at a time when faith in an ability to understand, predict and control change in cities was strong. Today in face of turbulent change and a spectacular failure to address wicked problems such as sustainability, urban poverty and climate change, that faith is unraveling. More open, dynamic and adaptable modes of strategic spatial planning practice are called for under such conditions (Albrechts, 2004; Healey, 2006; Hillier, 2007). There is, however, an inherent tension between calls for adaptability in the face of turbulent change in a complex, relational world and the institutional legacy of planning with its modernist foundation in attempts to 'defeat disorder' (Gleeson, 2008), including thorough rational comprehensive planning. Despite widespread critiques of the pillars of modernist planning in theory and practice and many examples of alternative modes of planning (Sandercock, 1998), this tension remains pervasive in planning practice.

In this paper, I explore a case where planners responsible for Melbourne's metropolitan planning sought to operationalise a more adaptive approach to strategic spatial planning following the release of a new metropolitan strategy. They termed this approach 'strategic navigation'. Operationalisation of strategic navigation involved a reconceptualisation of the role of strategic planning, a codification of the subsequent organisational implications through the draft business planning process and the identification and pursuit of leverageable strategies as a way to enact adaptability. This reflexivity by the planners was informed in part by collaboration with the Australian Strategic Foresight Institute (ASFI) and Dr Richard Hames and was a reaction to multiple conflicting pressures.

Contemporary turbulent conditions present particular challenges for policymaking including the new spaces of politics, radical uncertainty, awareness of interdependency, importance of 'difference' and dynamics of trust and identity (Hajer and Wagenaar, 2003). Institutional responses to some of these challenges have been slow (Hajer and Wagenaar, 2003). The exploration of strategic navigation in Melbourne provides an interesting case study where more adaptive organisational arrangements that could attend to these conditions were explored. The purpose of this paper is to draw out key insights that can inform ongoing planning theory and practice scholarship, exploring alternatives to 'obsolescent' traditional tools and practices of strategic spatial planning (Katz et al., 2006).

The case shows that even following release of a strategy with a comprehensive implementation agenda, where both the goals and means are ostensibly known, a programmed approach (after Christensen, 1985) is not likely to succeed as changing external conditions and unintended emergent policy effects (Wagenaar, 2007) can unsettle these fixities. …

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