Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Emotions in Planning Practice: A Critical Review and a Suggestion for Future Developments Based on Mindfulness

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Emotions in Planning Practice: A Critical Review and a Suggestion for Future Developments Based on Mindfulness

Article excerpt

Planners typically conceptualise themselves as professionals not emotionally engaged with their work. However, in planning practice, there are many discretionary decisions to make and these are easily affected by emotions. The uncomfortable truth is that planning practice is emotionally loaded, but scepticism about emotions discourages research on the topic. Academic research based on psycho- analytical theory has been developed in response to this. This research seems, however, to have little powerto provide high quality practical tools for professional planners. Mindfulness theory and training is presented here as a better alternative to equip practitioners with resources to deal with emotions at work.

Keywords: emotions, emotional regulation, psychoanalysis, mindfulness, planning practice

Planners' assiduousness in developing elaborate models of external urban systems indicates that the difficulty is not a lack of intellectual will or ability in general. Rather, the challenge is to muster the courage to turn that will and ability inward as well.

(Baum, 201 1, 1 19)

It is a well-known fact that planners have a difficult job, because they have to address very complex, 'wicked' problems (Rittel and Webber, 1973). Observing the intricacy of planning, Couclelis stated that this professional activity 'is a hopelessly complex human endeavour' (2005, 1355). Planners are potentially exposed to job-threatening political conflicts (Hoch and Gibulskis, 1987); interpersonal challenges imposed by planning processes based on communicative rationality (Allmendinger and Tewdwr- Jones, 2002; Healey, 1990; 2006; 2007; Tewdwr-Jones and Allmendinger, 1998); highly intricate dilemmas (Bertolini and le Glercq, 2003; Campbell and Marshall, 1998; Fried- mann, 1998; Lipsky, 1980; Tewdwr-Jones, 2002); and are responsible for addressing many of the complex issues of our increasingly multicultural societies (Sandercock, 1998). Planners have, indeed, a particularly demanding job, and this is only likely to increase in the forthcoming years. The current climate of economic recession and environmental breakdown is strongly affecting the activity of planners, because developers, central governments, local authorities and communities are facing serious environmental, financial and social pressures.

If working as a fully endorsed planner is an emotionally intense activity, becoming a planner is not easier. The current financial state of affairs will only serve to intensify the challenges of those wanting to enter the profession in the near future. Indeed, organisational entry is a process saturated with emotions and, not surprisingly, emotions play an important role in the selection of job candidates (Ashforth and Saks, 2002). Financial slowdown is likely to make recruitment an increasingly more compet- itive and stressful endeavour. Additionally, planning education is a process in which learning technical knowledge normally happens alongside changes in the students' identities (Gunder, 2004). These changes tend to happen because the students are asked to identify themselves with the core practices, beliefs, traditions and values of the profession (e.g. the need to pursue sustainable development in opposition to pursuing unsustainable development). Planning education is therefore an activity that has the potential to affect students' identities. The process of developing a coherent professional identity is not easy (Tewdwr-Jones, 2002), therefore becoming a planner is likely to be quite an emotional process. Furthermore, the fact that the key concepts of the profession are vague adds an extra level of difficulty to this process. Indeed, to define what sustainable development is and how it should be achieved constitutes a philosophical maze, which was critically analysed by Gunder and Hillier (2009). In summary, the entire process of becoming and being a planner is typically associated with quite strong emotional experiences.

It is important to clarify that in this paper 'emotions' will be defined as mental events (normally) associated with some form of physiological arousal and (normally) associated with specific 'action tendencies' (Elster, 1996). …

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