Exploring E-Planning Practices in Different Contexts: Similarities and Differences Between Helsinki and Sydney

Exploring E-Planning Practices in Different Contexts: Similarities and Differences Between Helsinki and Sydney

Sirkku Wallin (Aalto University, Finland), Joanna Saad-Sulonen (Aalto University, Finland), Marco Amati (Macquarie University, Australia) and Liisa Horelli (Aalto University, Finland)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2012070102
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As planners and decision-makers experiment with information and communication technologies (ICTs), it’s important to explore and analyze these attempts in different planning systems and contexts. The aim of the article is to compare the use of and aspirations attached to e-planning in Helsinki, Finland and Sydney, Australia. This comparison will highlight the interrelationship between planning context and its amenability to an e-planning approach and shows there are shared themes in both cases: firstly, the complexity involved in reconciling the aims of the e-planning experiments and their connection to the planning process itself (roles, objectives, implementation of tools and processes). Secondly, the way that e-planning opens up cracks in the façade of administration, and thirdly, the ways in which e-planning provides possibilities to reshape existing planning procedures. The authors argue that the different planning and governance contexts affect the adoption of e-planning and this adoption is necessarily a selective process.
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Emerging Tools And Practices Of E-Planning

Planning has had a complex relationship with information and communication technologies (ICTs) for a long time. The introduction of ICTs in cities tends to be a turbulent and ad-hoc process, although several cities claim to be City 2.0 and even 3.0 (Anttiroiko, 2011). Graphic and mapping tools, statistical data bases and visual simulations have frequently been used in urban planning practice. More recently, a set of new technologies, many of which have quickly entered everyday or mundane use, has been developed independently of urban planning, such as community web environments, social media platforms, and locative and mobile technologies. These technologies enable citizens to create and share data and information about local issues and the urban environment (Saad-Sulonen, 2012).

We refer to e-planning in this article, as the sociocultural, ethical, and political practice in which people take part online and offline in the overlapping phases of the urban planning and decision-making cycle (Horelli & Wallin, 2010, p. 3). We also take into consideration the extended range of digital tools – official, unofficial, expert, and mundane - and address their use in the context of citizen participation in urban planning. Whereas advocates of technology argue that the application of ICTs might complement or even change participation in planning (Yeh & Webster, 2004; Anttiroiko, 2011), it is important to remember the role of the socio-political context in which the technology is applied. For example, resources are spread unevenly in different sectors of government, some areas of bureaucracy may be better suited to an e-planning approach than others or a particular technology may become associated with an enthusiastic individual or champion.

E-planning includes consideration on how to use ICTs for enhancing the participation processes (Silva, 2010). However, the ways and modes of participation are changing, as well as the administration and decision-making processes too. The emphasis tends to be on new tools and structures, as well as on the timing for participation. In addition, the overall complexity of e-planning seems to change the linear process and stable power relations of planning (Wallin & Horelli, 2012). Public participation comprises multiple activities in which planners can have some discretion to choose among a number of modes of communication. Therefore, one can expect to identify a variety of uses and aspirations of e-planning in different contexts. It is important to comprehend, why some technologies are considered to be successful and others not. ‘Success’ in planning is highly contingent on place and history among many other factors (Pressman & Wildavsky, 1984). Understanding these contingencies can help practitioners comprehend, how the latest wave of ICT- adoption is shaping practice.

E-planning is still a relatively new field. We have not encountered any studies (in e.g., Silva, 2010a; Budthimedhee et al., 2002) that would have compared e-planning practices as we define them in this article, in different planning and governance contexts. Yet, such comparisons can help contribute to the theory of why an e-planning tool may succeed in one context and not another. In this article we aim to explore the use and aspirations of e-planning, by focusing on the context in which they are situated, namely the urban planning and governance system. We examine the similarities and differences in the way two ICT-savvy cities from diverse cultures use e-planning, through an international comparison. Furthermore, we wish to highlight the interrelationship between a given planning context and its amenability to an e-planning approach. Finally, we will also discuss the lessons learnt in terms of e-planning theory.

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