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  • Series: Research Handbooks in Planning series x
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Edited by Gert de Roo, Claudia Yamu and Christian Zuidema

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Gert de Roo

What planners should know: revolution and evolution are as real and essential to life as water and air. Revolution and evolution are expressions of change. We take the stand that spontaneous and autonomous change is a factor in the everyday environment we’re part of. In this chapter we explore the possibilities of making this kind of change part of the planners’ frame of reference. Traditionally planners’ concern is about effectively intervening in space and place, hence the desire for controlled environments. Contemporary planners also have a preference to act on the basis of consensus among the various parties involved, to create a world that is agreed upon. The message here is not that these approaches are bad or wrong, but, on the contrary, there’s more. The complexity sciences are a major source of inspiration for spatial planning, as these point out the importance of time, non-linearity, transformation and dynamics. That, together with the complexity sciences’ explaining power about co-evolutionary processes and processes of self-organization, for example within the urban environment, make the complexity sciences relevant to planners. On the other hand, this chapter also emphasizes being critical, as intentional change made by purposeful interventions remain a necessity. Also, the complexity sciences have a preference for quantitative data, while intersubjective interaction has proven its value to planning and should remain key to planning actions and the planning discipline. When it comes to mutual inspiration between planning and complexity, this chapter takes into account both opportunities and threats.

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Ernest R. Alexander

This chapter relates complexity to planning and institutional design. Complexity theories explain how self-organization creates complex adaptive systems (CAS), biological and human. Biological evolution is encoded in DNA; institutions are the DNA ordering human societies. Biological systems’ DNA developed by evolutionary adaptation, but human action is deliberate. Social institutions result from intentional decisions – institutional design. Institutional design is defined and described. There are three ‘levels’: the highest is ‘constitution-writing’; the meso-level (engaging planners) involves policy and implementation in substantive fields: e.g. economic development, environmental policy, infrastructure and human services. The micro-level involves intra-organizational institutional design and semi-formal or informal social units. After reviewing knowledge and methods for institutional design, the chapter discusses CAS’ relation to complexity. CAS’ internal and external complexity reflect their adaptation to the complexity of their environments. Finally, the chapter discusses complexity theory, research and institutional design. Human CAS are not like eco-systems: this conditions the application of complexity research to societies. But complexity theory offers insights for institutional design: CAS must adapt to their environments to succeed. The more complex their environments, the more complex CAS must become. Because each case is unique, general institutional design prescriptions are useless. Effective institutional design needs engaged and knowledgeable practitioners, and “goodness-of-fit” with the relevant environment is the only critical criterion for success.

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Gert de Roo and Camilla Perrone

This chapter is about rationality as a frame of reference for choice, planning and decision-making and that is susceptible to evolutionary and revolutionary tendencies. To begin with, rationality as it is commonly used in today’s planning debate no longer holds and the debate is progressing towards new understandings. This is a rather challenging and perhaps a somewhat controversial statement, knowing that the mainstream planning debate on rationality, communicative action and intersubjective reasoning is already far beyond the traditional, but still dominant, ‘rational choice theory’. This existing planning model positions two rationalities – the technical and the communicative – as opposing and complementary extremes that frame and explain planning behaviour in the governmental domain. Between these extremes, a multitude of realities regarding public choice, planning and decision-making can be assigned, each reality representing a specific course of action. However, to relate public choice, planning and decision-making to the governmental domain only is increasingly perceived as a limitation. Consequently, developments within planning practice require additional and innovative steps outside the existing rationality model for planning behaviour. This chapter proposes a multi-level expansion of the rationality model for planning behaviour. The rise of social movements, civil initiatives and collective action, as well as the ongoing democracy crisis, inspire the idea of seeking rationalities beyond the governmental domain. These new movements, initiatives and actions no longer relate to approaches within the traditional range from command-and-control government to shared governance. Consequently, planners and decision-makers are looking for frames of reference that include processes of self-governance. Building on the concepts of dynamic patterning, co-evolution and multiple layering, taken from the complexity sciences, a new rationality model will be constructed with multiple frames of reference for public choice, planning and decision-making.

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Christian Zuidema

Post-contingency draws from contingency studies and their indication that the performance of alternative planning approaches is influenced by the different environmental circumstances encountered. Complexity is in these contingency studies among the criteria used to distinguish between various environmental circumstances. The performance of alternative planning approaches is subsequently considered to depend on the degree of complexity encountered. Counterintuitively, complexity is now approached from a ‘static perspective’. Rather than appreciating complexity from the perspective of a dynamically evolving world, it is then seen as but as a characteristic of a planning situation to be identified and contingently responded to in the ‘here and now’. While such a reading of complexity is arguably simplistic and limited, post-contingency argues it can nevertheless be useful. Post-contingency goes one step further than ‘classic’ contingency studies and their suggestion that the complexity of the environment directly informs planning approaches and organizational formats. Rather, post-contingency considers the role of those involved in decision-making in perceiving, interpreting and responding to complexity. The argument is that both interpreting issues’ complexity and subsequently relating a planning approach to these issues are, at least partly, socially mediated choices. Post-contingency, therefore, argues that complexity is not presented to us planners as an objectified reality, nor that it determines planning choices. Instead, post-contingency highlights notions of perception and choice as essential intervening variables in how policy approaches and organizational formats are adapted to changing conditions of complexity and uncertainty.

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Gert de Roo, Ward Rauws and Christian Zuidema

Change occurs at all times. However, current changes are accompanied by an unprecedented dynamism and complexity. It is a consequence of an enormous and increasing rate at which new developments emerge, developments with a global nature that are also completely interwoven with the local environment, such as the internet, social media, economic uncertainty and the energy transition. The interconnectedness of these processes is only increasing, and their dynamics have an unstoppable effect on almost everything. Societal processes are part of a dynamism in which connections that are deemed relevant, the intended approaches and the targeted processes that were embraced yesterday and still feel familiar today, could very well be entirely outdated by tomorrow. These are the circumstances that spatial planning is confronted with. Planning can no longer afford to ignore fundamental uncertainties. Key is how planning can relate to change in a way that is different from before. Adaptivity is often mentioned as the answer to increasing uncertainty, societal dynamism and spatial transformation. It is then about the way in which planning is able to respond to unforeseen, autonomous or spontaneously occurring changes (acting in response to change), the way in which planning is able to influence such changes (addressing the possibility to change) and how planning may increase the options for dealing with change (capacity to perform in moments of change). Based on this distinction, various forms of adaptive planning will be presented that together offer a world of planning opportunities.

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Gert de Roo, Ward Rauws and Christian Zuidema

Adaptive planning has potential as an answer to coping with autonomous and spontaneous change. Such changes occur at all time and recently have been accompanied by an unprecedented dynamism and complexity. The interconnectedness of such processes is only increasing, and their dynamics have an unstoppable effect on almost everything. What seems to us as stable is often not much more than a temporal period of persistence, a frozen momentum within a dynamic world, the lee side of a world in flow. We consider this world to be out of equilibrium. And this is fundamental: while we like to see ourselves – the planner in particular – as the ‘creator’ of space and place, we seriously have to consider a world, as well, which is creating itself without purposeful interventions, develops often beyond our control, and despite our intentions progresses autonomously. These unexpected and unpredictable changes demand a different perspective in which planning will be ‘following’ and ‘responding to’ instead of ‘leading’ and ‘controlling’. Adaptive planning stands out in the search for alternatives to cope with these changes. Various kinds of adaptive planning will be identified in this chapter. We will explore their relationship with the current planning debate and its paradigmatic rationalities, i.e. the technical and the communicative rationality. We will extend the contemporary rationality framework for planning behaviour with several rationalities that each could be a ‘frame of reference’ for adaptive behaviour dealing with wide-ranging situations in a dynamically changing and transformative environment. This results in an extensive rationality framework for planning behaviour, which presents various new forms of adaptive planning and offers a vastly expanded world of planning possibilities!

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Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen and Martijn Duineveld

In this chapter, we reflect on the possibilities of purposeful community development in a non-linear understanding of society. Although the complexity and uncertainty that characterize the world put forward challenges for planning and steering, it doesn’t imply that purposive interventions are unlikely to be successful or that planning has become obsolete. It does, however, require a different understanding of how societies organize themselves and about how collective strategies sort reality-effects. Planning, as spatial planning, is a subset of strategy and provides a set of tools for others. In this chapter we highlight the importance of strategy in a world where many of the traditional planning rules and certainties have been challenged. We deepen the discussion about community development by placing it in the context of governance understood as a set of co-evolving actors, institutions, and power/knowledge configurations. Within these ever changing governance systems, forms of organization are necessarily linked to and co-evolve with narratives on identity, community, and governance itself, as the taking of collectively binding decisions. Taking into account the complexity and non-linearity that characterizes these co-evolutionary processes we discuss the links between community formation and the organization and transformation of space through planning. We explore how strategy should be understood in this context and we identify which forms of strategy can work under the structural conditions revealed through the lens of complexity theory and governance theory.

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Susa Eräranta

Planning research has acknowledged the growing complexity of cities. In order to support the understanding of the non-linear complexities, more and more actors enter planning processes to share their knowledge, simultaneously increasing the complexities from within, due to their differences of interests. For improving the understanding of these everyday social complexities of collaborative planning, a longitudinal focus at the actor-relational level is welcomed. To address the need for improving the understanding of the relational world of social dynamics and their effects over time, this chapter utilizes a practice-based example to explore how and why the dynamic patterns of interaction in-between the actors emerge. The case includes a four-year statutory strategic spatial planning process in the Nordic context. By utilizing mixed methods, the findings reveal the institutionally bound and emergent nature of the non-linear social dynamics. The utilized research design opens up the ability to visualize these complex dynamics as they unfolded over time, showing the process as a discontinuous flow of institutional and emergent social factors. The actor-relational complexities carry an essential role for enabling – or disabling – knowledge co-creation and holistic understanding in the process. Finally, the chapter reflects on the need to frame the exploration of everyday planning realities on two worlds of theory: planning theory and complexity theory.

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Stefano Moroni and Stefano Cozzolino

The chapter deals with the limits of regulation in complex systems, and is structured around three main questions. (i) Why is the city a complex system? Aside from the city having multiple objects and elements it is complex due to the fact that ‘the city is action’. The city is the emergent result of actions and continuous interaction over time. While actions are intentional behaviours with their own internal logic, the interactions of plural actions imply the emergence of unintentional socio-spatial configurations and an overall uncertainty of the system. By acting, we (intentionally) bring about certain things, while (unintentionally) provoking other things. (ii) What are the conditions within which actions take place? ‘Conditions’ for actions change from place to place. We will distinguish different kinds of conditions for action according to two main variables: first, we consider their nature, which can be ‘social’ or ‘material’; second, we focus on their genesis, which can be independent from human intervention or dependent on human activity. (iii) On which conditions can planners (effectively) intervene (and how)? Although planning rules are only one of the many conditions that influence actions in space, they represent the only condition that can be directly altered by planners to avert or favour certain situations in complex systems. It is exactly because the city is a complex system that only certain types of rules are better suited to deal with it. This brings us to two types of rules: directional rules to directly obtain a given order of urban actions, and relational rules to indirectly foster self-coordination of urban actions. This reasoning brings to the fore regulations that are relevant for the planner to consider when dealing with a dynamic city in action.