Between Theories and Praxis, Is Urban Planning More Than an Instrument of Management?

Urban planning is both a technique and a method of the observation and analysis of spatial, material and human reality. It is also a vision of what the city will be in the near and distant future. It is known above all by its projective and operational

J.-C. Bolay (H)

Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne, Switzerland e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

R. Alvarez Fernandez et al. (eds.), Carbon Footprint and the Industrial Life Cycle, Green Energy and Technology, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-54984-2_1

actions. Beyond that reality, indirectly, urban planning is also under the influence of theories and reflections which have, along the decades, consider and analyzed the city transformation and the urban mutation of the world. Discourses evolved, in the same manner that reality changes, going from the city to the urban, according to Choay (1999). Paquot et al. (2000) underlined the apparent contradiction between the normativity of a globalized urbanization, following similar models, and yet in the complex ambiguity of a gigantic heterogeneity, born of distinct local and national histories, of social practices, and of natural, climatic, geographic environments. This complexity must be taken into account in our discourse on the city and urbanization. In the words of Harvey (2012), cities are the place where people of all kinds and all classes gather, willingly or unwillingly, to produce a constantly changing common life. These perspectives, from this point of view, allow us to keep some generic elements, which also apply to the South: The city is first and foremost a social system (Kilcullen 2012), characteristic of modernity made of societal interactions and techniques (Bolay and Kern 2011). And the city is changing under the influence of social, economic and technological transformations, forming an environment that is both natural and constructed, a form of urban ecology, confronted by endogenous and exogenous conflicts of interest. Its socio-spatial dimensions are polymorphic, variable and dynamic (Brenner and Schmid 2014), making it impossible to give it an unambiguous definition, accepted by all. As stated in Scott and Storper (2014), the debate is endless because, based on a multi-dimensional subject and on continuous transformation, different currents of thought confront each other, some to deny the prevalence of an urban singularity, others to decipher the different characters: global city, neo-liberal city, creative city, ordinary city, and post-modern city. Certain general trends must nevertheless be remembered; as this is a global phenomenon that now massively impacts emerging and developing countries. It is first the synergy that exists between economic development and urban development, cities being, at the global level, high-tech hubs, driving forces of contemporary economics (OECD 2006). Although these trends may be more diffused in highly industrialized countries with dense and diverse networks, they remain significant in many developing countries, with a city, usually the capital, sometimes accompanied by two or three large agglomerations, which polarize all the elements of modern technology and economic attractiveness. Infrastructure density and the sophistication of services are all assets, regardless of the country or regional context, which reinforce the centrality of the city, its dynamism and its social interactions.

This theoretical debate tends to delineate the scope of knowledge about the city, its past and present (Wheeler and Beatly 2014), and will inevitably affect the level of planning, based on the precept that urban planning marks the translation of concepts in approaches and methods, with impact when the transfer of these theories, essentially of western origin, are applied to “other societies” (Endensor and Jayne 2012).

Urban planning should be understood as the prospective achievement of theories aiming for real transformation in its material as well as social, economic, environmental, and political dimensions. Planning itself is not considered a science but rather a method applied through technologies adapted to needs in the field, based on precepts often not clearly defined, but guided by instruments capable of spatially and materially organizing the distribution of individuals, their activities, goods, services, facilities and equipment in a territory that is clearly identified and limited for geographical and administrative reasons. Urban planning takes into account the potential and limitations of the natural (spatial and environmental) and human entity in question, including in its analysis the causes and impacts of the dynamics that affect the transformation of the city and its people.

The difficulty encountered with urban planning is that it is based more or less explicitly on different disciplines (architecture, urbanism, engineering, economics, sociology, public management, etc.), without rigorous obligations to refer to, and with many professional practices generally used as a basis in periodic and repeated exercises. A contrasting critical reading, forwards and backwards, is needed to understand: first, explicit or implicit links with various theories relative to city and urban societies; secondly, the anchoring points between (a) the intentions highlighted by urban planning, the operations planned and the resulting implementation, and (b) the procedures followed and the instruments used for their application. Using real concrete cases, in specific local, regional, and national contexts, the results of such planning processes will reveal their direct and indirect impacts on urban society, and the influence that these methods, instruments and activities have in the configuration of territorial and societal transformations. Examining the implementation and outcomes of real cases of urban planning should lead us to review urban planning, in its precepts, its methods and its applications, based on social, spatial and environmental reality, so as to make available to urban stakeholders useful tools that will help to provide sustainable solutions to urban problems that confront urban populations, in their entirety (as these problems are repeated in almost all towns in developing countries) and in their characteristics (as these problems are expressed in a particular way in each context, depending on the history of places and people, of constraints, and of current and future potential).

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >