Regional Design as a Form of Discretion

Discretion is, in popular terms, “the art ot suiting action to particular circumstances” (The Rt Hon Lord Scarman 1981, 103). It evolves in the context ot predefined rules, and is concerned with “making choices between courses of action” in specific situations (Booth 2007, 131). Discretionary action is a search tor “leeway in the interpretation of fact and the application of precedent to particular cases” (Booth 2007, 129). It not only aims at the application but also at an improvement of generally applicable rules through a judgment of their implications for particular situations. Regional design assists in the building ot spatial planning rationales by either challenging or refining spatial concepts, as was argued above. The notion ot regional design as a rule-building practice, and the importance of choices tor design and spatial planning, as well as the use ot spatial concepts imply that regional design practices closely resemble discretionary action. Such practices, when used in spatial planning, seek to proactively qualify spatial planning decisions by means of imagined, place-based solutions. The equation between regional design and discretionary action allows for a further detailing of the interrelations between regional

Table 4.2 Theoretical notions used to identify aspects of spatial planning frameworks that influence

regional design

Design theory

Design involves rule-making.

• During design processes simplifications of real, (Caliskan 2012, Schon 1988)

material settings are used to test design solutions.

From of the testing of imagined solutions against abstract perceptions of the built environment, rules are deducted: "[a]s rules of law are derived from judicial precedents, ... so design rules are derived from types, and may be subjected to test and criticism by reference to them" (Schon 1988, 183).

"Epistemic freedom" influences design practice.

• Design argumentation thrives on epistemic freedom, (Caliskan 2012, Rittel 1987). constituted by rich knowledge about a particular

situation. This freedom constitutes the creativity of design processes.

  • • In the context of such freedom, design solutions are derived from argumentation on how a design solution functions within its context but argument is inevitably incomplete.
  • • Overly abundant choices turn design into a practice of doubt. Doubt causes pragmatic behaviour: searches for acknowledged constraints that limit choices and release the designer from responsibility.

facilitate involvement in argumentative planning.

Planning theory Choices built into "frames"

  • (Dryzek 1993, Faludi 1987, 2000, Faludi and Korthals Altes 1994, Fischer 1995, Forester 1980, Forester and Fischer 1993, Friedmann 1969, Hajer 1995, Healey, 1997, 1999, Innes and Booher2003, Mastop and Faludi 1997, Needham 1988, Rein and Schon 1993, Throgmorton 1993, 2003, Tewdwr-Jones 1999)
  • • Argumentative planning relies on an interpretative premise, and a social constructionist perspective.
  • • In argumentative planning different world views that exist in societies are acknowledged. A need for communication, and negotiation is deduced from this diversity.
  • • A frame is "a perspective from which an amorphous, ill-defined, problematic situation can be made sense of and acted on" (Rein and Schon 1993,146). Frames are required for the consideration of competing arguments in policy argumentation.
  • • The amount of choices built into frames determines the planning-audience bandwidth for political consent and thus the quality of democratic decisions.

The flexibility of planning frameworks is an important determinant of planning.

(Buitelaar, Galle, and Sorel 2011, Faludi and Korthals Altes 1994, Munoz 2010, Tewdwr-Jones 1999)

Planning frameworks incorporate degrees of flexibility. A high degree of flexibility is positively associated with negotiation, collaboration and governance.

A low degree of flexibility is positively associated with certainty and the predictability of planning outcomes.


Table 4.2 Cont.

Choices built into spatial planning frameworks allow for the recognition of spatial


  • • The flexibility of spatial planning frameworks facilitates a recognition of spatial diversity.
  • • The amount of choices built into frameworks influences strategic spatial selectivity: the making of strategic locational choices.
  • • A high degree of flexibility ("softness") is positively associated with the responsiveness of planning to real problems "on the ground."

(Allmendinger and Haughton 2009b, Allmendinger and Haughton 2010, Brenner 2004, Faludi 1987, 201 3, Needham 1988)

Spatial concepts have different degrees of ambiguity.

  • • Spatial concepts have a more or less fuzzy analytical foundation.
  • • Spatial concepts incorporate more or less clearly defined values (broad agendas or operational goals).
  • • Spatial concepts embody more or less soft territories and forms of territorial control.

(Davoudi 2006, Markusen 1999, Davoudi etal. 2018)

Discretion seeks to qualify rules through assessing their implications for particular situations.

  • • Discretion is a form of decision-making that evolves in the context of predefined rules. In this context, discretionary action is a search for "leeway in the interpretation of fact and the application of precedent to particular cases" (Booth, 2007, 129).
  • • Discretion is "the art of suiting action to particular circumstances" (The Rt Hon Lord Scarman (1981,
  • 103)). It seeks to qualify rules through assessing their implications for particular situations.
  • • Discretion requires flexibility; room for interpretation in rules provides for the possibility of making a choice between courses of action.
  • • Discretion has organisational/institutional implications, as it defines "who decides and with what degrees of freedom, about the way in which the system legitimates the power to act" (Booth 1996, 132).

(Booth 1996, 2007, Buitelaar and Sorel 2010, Tewdwr-Jones 1999)

Source: Balz (2019).

design and spatial planning. It brings a set of tour aspects of spatial planning frameworks to the foreground as plausible determinants of the performance of regional design (see Table 4.2 for an overview of the theoretical foundations).

Room for interpretation is a determinant of regional design. Design scholars note that epistemic freedom, built into preconceived types of environments, matters tor design argumentation. Planning scholars with an interest in decision-making emphasize the flexibility of planning frameworks as an important determinant of decision-making in strategic spatial planning. Spatial concepts involve a degree of ambiguity to allow tor their interpretation “on the ground.” In discretion, room for interpretation - the choices that premediated rules incorporate - is a central issue. Without these choices, discretionary action can, by definition, not evolve

  • (Booth 2007).Taking this as a point departure, it can first be argued that the choices built into premediated spatial concepts are an important context tor design. In regional design practice, room for interpretations can be embodied in a variety of types of“frames.” It can sit in broadly defined institutionalized spatial concepts, with which designers are expected to work, or in the more detailed geographies that concrete regional design commissions pose. In whatever form room for interpretation is presented, it requires attention as a determinant of regional design performance.
  • Room for interpretation determines if regional design is pragmatic or evolves as a form of advocacy. Choices for action built into rules are required tor discretion. Their abundance determines how discretion evolves, as scholars who have investigated discretion in the realm of (spatial) planning have noted (e.g. Booth 1996, 2007, Buitelaar and Sorel 2010,Tewdwr-Jones 1999). These scholars argue that discretionary action, when evolving in the context of multiple choices, likely leads to a refinement of rules. Conversely, such action likely leads to the challenging ot rules when it evolves in the context of few choices. Design theorists argue that design - the testing of solutions against simplified abstractions ot the built environment - may be a process of elaboration or of discovery. On the grounds ot these notions, it can be assumed that the room for interpretation that designers are provided with, determines if design will likely be deductive - elaborating premediated geographies - or be inductive - discovering new or new features of geographies. In more fundamental terms, these notions imply that regional design, depending on premediated choices and constraints, either evolves as pragmatic behavior or as a form of advocacy.
  • Room for interpretation informs collaboration and governance in regional design. It is common to describe governance arrangements as social bodies that involve intricate networks, composed of multiple and multi-level, horizontal and vertical relations among public, private, and civil actors (e.g. in Ansell 2000, Booth 2005, Hooghe and Marks 2001, Jessop 2004). Arrangements form temporary political entities, which continuously re-constitute themselves while demands for governing arise from above, below or beside (Ansell 2000, Jessop 2001, 2004). The involvement of governance arrangements in spatial planning has different purposes. Inclusion may follow a collaborative rationale; governance in this case is justified by a recognition and appreciation of plurality, and aspires to good democratic decision-making (Healey 2003, Innes and Booher 2003). Another governance rationale is related to “governing”: the resolution of societal problems that occur in particular situations (Mayntz 2004). In this more politically motivated involvement of actors, the recognition ot distinct problems and the operationalization of planning in the face of these problems play an important role. Mayntz (2004) notes that these two governance rationales co-exist in planning practice. However, other authors argue that the strategic selectivity, which is required for the recognition of problems in particular areas, is likely to produce conflict and thus may stand in the way of harmonious collaboration (Brenner 2004, Friend and Jessop 2013, Jessop 2001). That the two governance rationales are not easy to combine is recognized by scholars of discretion. They make a distinction between discretion by means ot collaborative policy argumentation, and by means of more confrontational processes. They argue that the former process is likely to occur in the context of softly defined policy guidance where discretion is largely pragmatic. The latter process is likely to occur in the context ot rigid law or regulation where discretion is a form ot advocacy (Tewdwr-Jones 1999, Booth 2002,2007).

Scholars with a particular tocus on regional design often appreciate its collaborative nature (Kempenaar 2017, Van Dijk 2011, De Jonge 2009). Empirical analysis shows (Balz 2019) that the employment of regional design in spatial planning decision-making is frequently motivated by the inclusion of multiple actors. The equivalence between regional design and discretionary action implies, however, that collaboration requires careful considerations. The notions indicate that governance in regional design practice differs depending on room for interpretation in premediated rules: collaborating actors are either united by broadly defined, shared perceptions of the built environment, or are separated by more narrowly and, therefore, more operationally defined perceptions. In reality networked actor constellations in regional design practice may be difficult to unravel. However, unraveling is required to identify possibly hidden political agendas, overly pragmatic behavior, or unaccountable ways to influence decision-making procedures (see e.g. Allmendinger and Haughton 2009a, Jessop 2004). Such unraveling is also required to predict and assess the performances ot regional design in the realm of cooperation.

Distances between actors with different roles in regional design qualify the performance of regional design in spatial planning decision-making. An equivalence between regional design and discretion not only leads to a distinction in the governance rationales of regional design practices but also implies a need to distinguish roles in their conduct. In discretion, the ones who hold responsibility for premediated rules, who seek to bend these rules, and who judge if such search has indeed built sufficient argumentation tor rule-revision need to be separated carefully, in order to guarantee accountability and legitimacy. One implication of a similar division of actors in regional design lies in the power that is attributed to the design commissioner: the actor who frames design tasks and, in this way, provides room for interpretation or epistemic freedom. By formulating problem definitions, policy agendas or design briefs, the commissioner predetermines the outcomes and performance. Room for interpretation in preconceived rules also determines the relations between commissioners and the “authors” of design proposals — those who engage in the making of design proposals. In a pragmatic use of regional design both commissioners and authors, are united by shared spatial imaginaries. When design is used for advocacy, it will be more likely that these actors are divided. An equivalence between regional design and discretion finally stresses a need for discernible judgment. In discretion, there is a distinction between discretionary action - the constitution of precedent, or the interpretation of rules on the ground — and discretionary control: the assessment whether discretionary action should lead to rule reform. For the qualification of discretion in organizational terms, a distance between those who compose a “court of appeal” and those who seek exemption is essential. In regional design practice, actors who judge whether a design proposal is a relevant interpretation of premediated spatial planning rationales or a negligible incident need to be independent from both, commissioners and authors of design, to be able to come to sound conclusions.

Additional Theoretical Considerations

The theoretical considerations presented above are strongly connected to the results ot empirical case study research (Balz 2019). A second set of theoretical considerations can be proposed which are more loosely grounded in research but nevertheless focus on important aspects of regional design.

Creativity in regional design. Design scholars note that design in the context of abundant epistemic freedom or a broad room for interpretation produces creative solutions but also doubt that leads to a search for constraints limiting the number of available choices:

What the designer knows, believes, tears, desires enters his reasoning at every step of the process, affects his use of epistemic freedom. He will - of course - commit himself to those positions which matches his beliefs, convictions, preferences, and values, unless he is persuaded or convinced by someone else or his own insight.

(Rittel 1987, 6)

Empirical analyses reveal pragmatic behavior in regional design practices, in particular, when these evolve in the context of ambiguous spatial planning frameworks and complex governance settings. In planning literature, overly pragmatic behavior in such settings is associated with a wish to sustain existing political agendas and power structures (see for instance Allmendinger and Haughton 2009a). It is therefore argued that design practice needs to carefully consider the multiple implications of epistemic freedom.

  • “Assemblage-thinking” in regional design. The analytical framework presented here relies on the assumption that regional design includes the building of spatial planning rationales. How such rationales evolve receives attention by a number of planning scholars. Observation of urbanism approaches reminded them of “assemblage-thinking,” where planning is the outcome of rather spontaneous association of occurring action on the ground with generally applicable frameworks (Allmendinger, Haughton, and Shepherd 2016, Brenner, Madden, and Wachsmuth 2011, Cochrane 2012, Jones 2009, Massey 2011, Allmendinger and Haughton 2009a). Our research has focused on the matches and mismatches that regional design proposals produce in the context of spatial planning frameworks.These analyses indicate that resulting decisions were often not based upon carefully constructed rationales but indeed the product of spontaneous, reflexive responses, which are difficult to objectively explain (Balz 2019).
  • Meta-governance in regional design. Meta-governance, as defined by Jessop (2004), is an attempt to control planning decisions not by means of deliberating substantive issues but by controlling decision-making procedures. Such control involves measures that “deploy ... organizational intelligence and information,’’“provide rules for participation,”“organize negotiations,” and install a “court of appeal” (idem, 13). The engagement of the Dutch national government in regional design practice appears to have been motivated by such attempts at times. It can therefore be concluded that the concept of“meta-governance” is relevant for a deeper understanding of regional design in the realm of spatial planning.
  • Values and norms of regional design professionals. In discretionary practice, multiple forms of discretionary control exist. Booth (2007, 136) makes a distinction between controls that are “external to the administration and the political decision-making process” (including elections, judicial review, and public participation) and “internal controls” (including negotiation within administrations). By referring to Adler and Asquith (1981,13), Booth also points at controls that are “exercised through professional affiliation” and “by reference to ‘esoteric professional knowledge’” (Booth 2007,136). He notes that professional organizations, when they engage in discretionary control, claim to have special expertise, and distinguish themselves through a “code of conduct,” ethical principles and core values (idem, 139). Empirical analysis of regional design practice in Dutch national planning has identified such core values and norms of regional design professionals, for instance in their continuing referencing to “spatial quality” and consistent use of imagery. It can therefore be assumed that the selfconception of the professional community has informed regional design practice and its performances.
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