“Planning” or e-Planning?: Implications for Theory, Education and Practice

“Planning” or e-Planning?: Implications for Theory, Education and Practice

Ernest R. Alexander (Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, USA & Alexander Planning & Design (APD), Tel-Aviv, Israel)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2014010101
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Abstract

Planning theory is hardly relevant for E-Planning, because generic “planning” does not exist for practical purposes, except as distinct planning practices. E-Planning is such a practice, with implications for E-Planning theory, education and practice. Defining planning as “what planners do” makes planning a socially recognized practice; for such practices “planning” always has a qualifyer: urban-, environmental- or strategic planning. Meaningful discussion of planning demands contingent referents not abstract generalizations. Diverse planning practices are identifyable on several dimensions: sector, level or domain, and country. With various actors and blends of usable knowledge, planning practices contribute expertise to the co-construction of knowledge. The case for E-Planning follows the prototype of spatial planning, including tools: knowledge that E-planners contribute; practice: the E-Planner's role and social purpose; and context: E-planners' workplaces and their institutional environment. Evidence of institutionalization (including the IJEPR) confirms that E-Planning is a real planning practice, with E-Planning theory in development and awaiting integration.
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There Is No Planning – Only Planning Practices1

Definitions: What is Planning?

Friedmann defined planning as the link between knowledge and action (1987: 38-44). With this point of departure, some have called planning “an interactive process” (Crosta, 1996). Others have defined planning as “the premeditation of action” (Harris, 1996), as anticipatory coordination (Alexander, 1998), as rational choice (Davidoff & Reiner, 1962), as controlling the future (Wildavsky, 1973), as framing subsequent decisions (Faludi, 1987). The problem with these definitions is not that they are not true; it is that they are too abstract for closure2.

Vickers’ (1968) definition: “Planning is what planners do” looks like a tautology, but it offers a promising alternative. Its validation principle, the social construction of knowledge, is one of its merits. Its other merit is that it closes an infinite regress of debate. Platonic definitions may make interesting theory, but realism demands a contingent, not a universal, definition of planning: “Planners” are the people who a particular community acknowledges are involved in a process it recognizes as “planning”.

This approach also offers one relevant insight. Only one set of people talks about “planning” without any qualification: planning theorists. Everyone else refers to “planning” with a substantive descriptor. The referent may be disciplinary or professional: city and regional- or town and country planning, economic planning or transportation planning; or refer to the object of practice: spatial or territorial planning, urban planning, land-use planning, social planning, economic development planning, or environmental planning; or delimit the planning domain: regional planning, State planning, corporate planning; or it may refer to a form of practice: strategic planning, advocacy planning, E-planning, but the qualifier is universal.

This rule applies in academe, where discussions of planning programs, curricula, staffing and accreditation revolve around specific planning areas of expertise or practice3. It applies to planning professionalization, qualifications, and the institutionalization of planning practice4. It applies in planning practice (e.g. recruitment, plan elements, planning objects and projects) and it applies everywhere else one can think of: politics, legislation, the media, and common conversation. Nobody talks about “planning”, or really means generic planning if they do.

What does this imply about “planning” theory? It suggests that any meaningful discussion of planning demands contingent and contextual referents: What kind of planning? Where? What for? Answering the general question: What is useful or relevant planning theory? is impossible.

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