The Landscape Guide

11.1 Deconstructing the Constructive Professions

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In cities, there is a concealed power struggle between the partisans of transport, social justice, gracious housing, religion, commerce, fine building, spacious parks and a healthy environment. Wishing to attain all these ends, society employs a range of experts to bring them about: engineers, lawyers, architects, priests, teachers, industrialists, environmentalists and others. Each professional group dedicates itself to constructing a specialized aspect of the public welfare, which contributes to its private welfare. Like the objectives they serve, these experts find themselves in conflict. Each comes to believe, fervently, in its "own' department of the public welfare. Doctors, claiming that nothing matters if one lacks health, suggest that more money should be spent on hospital beds. Gardeners want the money spent on flower beds. Highway engineers want it spent on roads, architects on better buildings, religious leaders on churches, park managers on parks. To obtain resources, it becomes necessary to gain power and influence.

When the professions distort the truth, society suffers. Experts develop specialized discourse comprising words, metaphors, a narrative, work practices, visual images, artefacts and, where possible, laws. Specialized discourse becomes a means to power, just as man-centred discourse was a means to male dominance in past millennia. A discourse constructs a version of reality that emphasizes particular social structures. Teachers, for example, think and speak as though compulsory education were a necessary precondition for health, wealth and justice. Furthermore, they argue that "qualified teachers' alone can provide education. Doctors argue that only doctors should be allowed to prescribe drugs. Structural engineers wish every structure to be certified before it is constructed. Architects incline to a law that permits only qualified architects to design buildings.

The group of professionals that specializes in the built environment finds itself in a unique position to build the versions of reality that were first constructed in professional discourse. They use language to survey, analyse and control the built form of cities. Abstruse measures of accessibility, legibility and spatial structure become preludes to expensive proposals. Alternative theories emphasize wide streets and narrow streets; some prefer defensible cul-de-sacs, others see them as anathema. On different occasions, both policies can improve cities. Yet urban designers have very little influence on road design. Vis-à-vis engineers, their position has always been one of institutionalized inequality. The discourse of engineering, emphasizing health, safety and economic growth has, in most "modern' countries, secured the enactment of laws that give highway designers control over human settlements. Power generates form.