Planning Ethics in the Age of Wicked Problems

Planning Ethics in the Age of Wicked Problems

Jeffrey Chan Kok Hui (Department of Architecture, School of Design and Environment, National University of Singapore, Singapore)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2014040102
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Abstract

Ever since the publication of Rittel and Webber's Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning in 1973, the discourse on wicked problems has grown steadily in planning and other disciplines. Despite this, there has been little attention paid to the ethical dimensions of wicked problems. What are the ethical dimensions of wicked problems in planning and specifically, in e-planning? To answer this question, the author examines planning ethics in relation to the discourse on wicked problems. Following Hendler's framework (2001) on planning ethics, which comprises of five distinct discourses—namely, (i) the ethics of everyday behavior; (ii) the ethics of administrative discretion; (iii) the ethics of planning techniques; (iv) plan making; (v) normative planning theory—the author discusses each in relation to the discourse of wicked problems to draw out their ethical dimensions in the context of urban and regional planning. Through these discussions, the author argues that e-planning should engage with the discourse of planning ethics, and further, that e-planning can begin to develop its own ethical discourse in the face of wicked problems in planning today.
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The Ethical Gap Of Wicked Problems In Planning

Despite this recent momentum on wicked problems, C.W. Churchman’s original concern on the moral challenges of the wicked problem remains under-examined (Wexler, 2009). Churchman claimed that wicked problems entail moral responsibilities very different from one formulating and solving a routine or ‘tame’ problem (Wexler, 2009). Specifically then, what does this mean for planners and therefore, what are the ethical dimensions of wicked problems in planning?2 And what should be the ethical theories relevant for planning in the age of wicked problems? Ethics, which is concerned with what is morally good, what is right and what a planner is obliged to do, is often obscured by the complex processes behind urban and regional planning decisions (Kirkman, 2010)—and this is even before one imputes wicked problems into planning. And although Rittel alluded to the ethical dimensions of wicked problems in different writings, and ethics was close to his research and teaching (Protzen & Harris, 2010), Rittel did not consolidate his thinking on the ethical dimensions of wicked problems in planning. Nonetheless, answers to these questions are important because the nature of the planners’ ethical obligations will depend in part on the ethical theories used to understand and guide planning today.

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