Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

A Pioneer 'Global Intelligence Corps'? the Internationalisation of Planning Practice, 1890-1939

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

A Pioneer 'Global Intelligence Corps'? the Internationalisation of Planning Practice, 1890-1939

Article excerpt

The development of modern planning practice from the late nineteenth century was, from the outset, an international activity. A high proportion of early planners practised in countries other than their own. The paper considers whether their activities can be seen as a pioneer 'global intelligence corps' of the type which some researchers have identified in the contemporary world. If explores the early history of international planning practice from 1890-1939, drawing on the careers of individual practitioners from several countries. It also examines the roots of this practice. These include broader contextual factors such as international communications, linguistic considerations, border formalities and the importance of imperialism. Also important were the more specific quantitative international imbalances in planning expertise and the common tendencies to see specific cities as models which, in being emulated, often required planners from the appropriate country to be commissioned. Other more specific aspects of the milieux, within which planning developed were also conducive to international practice, such as the popularity of international exhibitions, conferences and competitions. The paper also considers the wider (and varied) significance of these global planners on the international spread of planning knowledge and the extent to which they themselves were changed by their encounters with other countries. It concludes that, while certain features were similar to the work of today's major global consultancies, there were also important differences.

It is now widely understood that globalisation does not simply result from macro-economic forces or impersonal actions by multinational corporations or governmental agencies. An important element of globalisation, especially its characteristic spatial compression of economic activity and cultural experience, has been the existence of transnational professional communities sharing and applying knowledge and expertise. These have sometimes been termed 'epistemic communities' or 'global intelligence corps' (Haas, 1992; Rimmer, 1991; Olds, 2001). However, there is a significant difference in the meanings of these two terms in the present context. The first is concerned with expert groups sharing transnational epistemologies, showing common understandings and methodological approaches. However, it does not necessarily require that practitioners themselves are transnational actors.

The second term, by contrast, focuses more specifically on expert practitioners operating across national boundaries. It therefore expresses more precisely the sense of globally practised professional expertise. Even so, we must register some immediate reservations about the underlying concept, in that the notion of a 'corps' seemingly overstates the degree of mutual discipline and cohesion among today's global practitioners. Rimmer and Olds also use the term in a very specific sense, as an adjunct of the contemporary operations of global development and construction companies. Nevertheless, it constitutes the most specific attempt to conceptualise transnational professional practice, which forms the subject of this paper.

In the field of urban development, today's 'global intelligence corps' comprise the major international consultancies of architects, engineers, property consultants and planners. These, relatively few, often multi-professional, organisations supply a disproportionate part of the expertise that underpins large-scale urban development activities in the world's major cities. Partly for this reason, the work of these consultancies has attracted academic and wider interest. Rimmer (1988), the originator of the term 'global intelligence corps', has framed it in the context of his detailed analyses of international engineering consultancies. Meanwhile, the more glamorous world of architectural practices headed by global 'superstars' has attracted great public as well as academic interest (the latter including King, 1990; Larson, 1994 and, most relevantly for this concept, Olds, 2001). …

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