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Planning theory, although rather recent in its emergence, has not had a clear definition of what it truly upholds nor what it encompasses within its boundaries. Planning, as a profession, has had a similar fate; the meaning of each practitioners’ role are often times lost in translation with the disparate of approaches in decision-making for spatial development and space-making for the people. As such, Fainstein and DeFilippis’ Readings in Planning Theory (Structure and Debates of Planning Theory) as well as Marcuse’ The Three Historic Currents of City Planning would be used to analyze whether planning theory is of value in the planning practice.
The first reading for this week, Fainstein and DeFilippis tackled one of the biggest questions that planning practitioners are faced with today due to the gap that seemingly exists between planning practice and theory. Unlike other professions (i.e. political scientist, economist or geographer) that have had their own default justification or interpretation over subjects within their scope, planning theory does not have this cookie-cutter mold. This is mainly due to the fact that planning is not only performed by sole planning practitioners, while practitioners are challenged with the expectations to balance the demands of public-private stakeholders, work with unpredictable circumstances of the future and recognize the inevitable scrutiny attached with being in the profession. On top of all of these, it is immensely integral that planners can instill effective and adequate change in the interest of the public without ignoring the unheard. But all of this cannot be done when there is no specific construct of what role do planners play in the development of a good city. What is clear is that, planning theory changes over time and even possibly, several conflicting visions of what planning should do may arise within the same period of time. This is where theorists can assist practicing planners in delivering outcomes and become advocates of planning can be used to create a city/region that efficient, adequate and relatable for all, be it for a politician, civic citizen, or business owners.
Drawing from both of the readings and throughout numerous narratives, it can be concluded that planning theory is important in the realm of planning. While planning theory has been a difficult subject to define due to the complexity of its scope, establishing theory as a far-off linkage from planning practice creates unneeded barriers and obstacles. Becoming aware that planning does not only involve a singular definitive system of explanation but a blend of heterogeneous processes could allow planners to utilize theories more in the practice. It is also important to understand theories that address various planning aspects that exist concurrently even though they may be of conflicting nature. Bridging the gap would establish a more expansive avenue and guidance to directing where planning should go and not purely of intuition or instinct. Adhering to one theory and using it as a definitive map can stray us away from our main goal, we can instead apply theory as a guiding tool to help us find our way efficiently with better judgment. Applying theory could aid in planners becoming more self-sufficient and acquire a more pragmatic attitude when faced with complex tasks. Understanding the importance of the quickly altering nature of planning theory would support planners in evolving along with the change and learning how to properly respond to it. Theory should be considered an instrument rather than as the clear-cut truth.
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