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Will (landscape) planning die?

Environmental planning has been too scientific, too man-centred, too past-fixated and two-dimensional. In Cities of tomorrow Peter Hall asks 'Will planning die away, then?' (Hall 1988: 360). His answer is markedly cautious: 'Not entirely'. The thirst for liberalism and economic growth, which pushed back planning in the 1980s and smashed the Berlin Wall, now threatens all types of government planning. But, argues Hall, a core is likely to survive. This is because:

Good environment, as the economists would say, is an income-elastic good: as people, and societies generally, get richer, they demand proportionally ever more of it. And, apart from building private estates with walls around them, the only way they are going to get it is through public action. The fact that people are willing and even anxious to spend more and more of their precious time in defending their own environment, through membership of all kinds of voluntary organisations and through attendance at public inquiries, is testimony to that fact (Hall 1988). 

This chapter looks at the factors which have caused our doubts about planning, and at how they might be resolved. The argument, in summary, is that geography created the opportunity for physical planning, that geography revolutionised planning at the start of the twentieth century, and that geography can revolutionise planning once again. A development of profound importance, the computer-based Geographical Information System (GIS), is set fair to be the revolution's handmaiden. Modern geography and modernist planning are giving way to a future in which there will be a myriad of thematic maps, pluralist plans and non-statutory action by user groups which are 'willing and even anxious to spend more and more of their precious time' on the environment.

Gender and planning  Planning has been 'too masculine': it has concentrated on the way of the hunter and neglected the way of the nester.

Science and planning  Planning has been 'too scientific' in the sense of trying to project trends and deduce policies from empirical studies of what exists.

Geography and planning Three-dimensional design, and the natural tendency for places to evolve and change, have been comparatively neglected by planners.

Modern planning Modern planning tended towards the creation of similar places all over the world.

Single-purpose planning Great harm was done to the environment by single-use planning.

Multi-purpose planning Modern use-categories should be deconstructed

GIS-based planning Computer-based Geographic Information Systems (GIS) have the potential to revitalise planning, when they are used as conceptual models, rather than maps or decision-making tools.

So will planning die? GIS to the rescue

On the contrary, I believe it will grow. But the way of the hunter must be married to the way of the nester. The age of the preeminent Development Plan, Master Plan or Unitary Land Use Zoning Plan is passing away. The fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989, was a symbolic end to a period in which scientifically trained technocratic elites aspired to the formulation of Five Year Plans. In the foreseeable future, all kinds of plans will be produced by all kinds of groups. This book is concerned with plans for the conservation and improvement of the landscape as perceived by the individual, the walker, the cyclist, the swimmer, the ornithologist, the parent, the traveller, the photographer, the home-maker, the employer and the employee. It is not concerned with the planning of statistical aggregates.

Planning will become more plural. Forward-looking plans and backward looking plans will be wanted by many groups within society. Some will be able to prepare their own plans. Others will need help. The planners' job will become that of making plans, of assisting others to make plans, of fitting plans together, of supplying information, of resolving conflicts, of helping with implementation. Where conflict resolution proves impossible, or where public funding proves necessary, decisions must be taken by democratic or judicial bodies. Land Use Plans and Master Plans will be joined by Mistress Plans, Servant Plans, Hedgehog Plans, Water Plans and Vision Plans, amongst others.

The forum for all this activity will be the Geographical Information System, accessed through the internet. The lower layers of the GIS model will represent the existing environment. The upper layers will represent plans, ideals and aspirations. Conventional plans look 'downwards' to the existing world and project current trends in a depressing manner. Future plans will look 'upwards' to the world of hopes and dreams. Development projects should be considerate towards the welfare of the existing environment and creative with regard to future environments. GIS technology will enable both to be modelled and displayed.

Medium planning original