Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Fractal Spaces for Planning and Governance

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Fractal Spaces for Planning and Governance

Article excerpt

This paper discusses concepts of space within the planning literature, the issues they give rise to and the gaps they reveal. It then introduces the notion of 'fractals' borrowed from complexity theory and illustrates how it unconsciously appears in planning practice. It then moves on to abstract the core dynamics through which fractals can be consciously applied and illustrates their working through a reinterpretation of the People's Planning Campaign of Kerala, India. Finally it highlights the key contribution of the fractal concept and the advantages that this conceptualisation brings to planning.

Recent planning literature has reflected a growing interest in reconceptualisations of space to better suit the complex cities of today. Earlier notions of space in planning have consequently been critically examined for the ways of thinking they embody, the frameworks for action they suggest and the very actions that they give rise to. These have tended to characterise older notions of space as 'Euclidean' (Graham and Healey, 1999, 625) and 'absolute' (Massey, 1999, 262). Opposed to this concept of space is posited the 'relational' concept (Healey, 2000; 2002; 2004; Graham and Healey, 1999; Massey, 1993; Murdoch, 1998; Harvey, 1996; Soja, 1989; 1996) which is qualitatively distinguished from the older concept. This paper reviews the literature on both concepts of space, highlighting what each has come to signify for planning, and discusses the dilemmas for planning that each concept poses. The concept of 'fractals' borrowed from the now increasingly discussed complexity science is then introduced, and the helpfulness of the concept of fractals is illustrated. The final section of the paper describes how this concept can be usefully employed to address some of the difficulties posed by the different concepts of space, currently employed in planning. Normative conclusions expressed in a generic manner are illustrated empirically through a reinterpretation of the People's Planning Campaign (PPC), operationalised in Kerala, India for the last nine years.

Planning in 'Euclidean' absolute space, relative space and relational space

Euclidean planning quite simply refers to planning based on physical attributes of proximity, continuity or containment within physical boundaries. This notion of planning approaches space as an a pnon entity, given, existing independent of what might constitute it. It manifests itself as an inert container for what may be ascribed to it - a space that is objectively definable by measurable absolute attributes of distance, proximity, continuity etc. The planner's task is to manage this physical space to remove economic, social and environmental problems (Graham and Healey, 1999).

A slightly modified version of Euclidean space, not radically disturbing it, is the concept of relative space (Raper and Livingstone, 1995; discussed in Massey, 1999). This is an object-oriented vision of space, wherein space is removed from its absolute status and is conceived in terms of the objects that occupy it. The concept of relative space brought in a qualitative dimension to space, which gave rise to relations (hence the identification with relational space) realised materially and still measurable by distance (hence the identification with absolute space). The still measurable space became amenable to normative ordering on measurable criteria, giving rise to a rationalism dictated by the logic of measurable dimensions, emphasising those attributes of the objects that lent themselves to this logic. The instruments that allowed the practice of the logic occupied centre stage in planning practice and the era of instrumental rationalism in planning was born of the tools and techniques employed.

Also defined in relative space within the practicalities of planning practice is the offsetting of the internal from the external - a world of intervention and 'logical' order from a wilder external environment (which also needed to be tamed). …

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