Planning adapts to an era of cuts

Planners' strategic skills will be central to meeting critical challenges ahead, maintains Jenny Crawford.

Realisation of the potential impact of public sector cuts on the capacity to plan strategically or proactively is hitting the planning community in wave after wave. The latest edition of Planning Theory and Practice journal reflects on international experience of planning activity in an era of austerity.

In his editorial, Mark Scott of University College Dublin highlights an Irish perspective, where speculation in rapid, lightly regulated, developer-led house building helped bring the national economy to its knees.

The 300,000 vacant dwellings in a population of 4.2 million indicates a shocking legacy. The role of planning in co-ordinating investment in infrastructure and residential development is being revisited in a retrospective reaction to blighted estates.

The Irish national plan was recognised as a groundbreaking document in spatial planning. But there appears to have been a systemic failure in the links between national, regional and local planning.

In their analysis of the national planning framework for Scotland for 2010 to 2025, Greg Lloyd and Deborah Peel of the University of Ulster point out that economic crisis has driven increased emphasis on the importance of a strategic national framework underpinning economic policy and local planning reform.

The journal's lively Interface section explores the response of US planners to the new vistas promised by the Barack Obama administration. John Forester of Cornell University asks: "After so much right-wing presidential bashing, after so much invective hurled at 'faceless government bureaucrats', might there now be new opportunities for effective planning interventions?" The response is a breathless rollercoaster of hope, disappointment and refusal to despair in the face of adversity.

Interestingly, among the distinctive characteristics ascribed to the Obama model of change by Phillip Thompson of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is "values-orientated local group organising versus traditional issue-based and oppositional forms of campaign".

He welcomes the opportunity to engage the diversity and complexity of communities that has been underplayed in previous rhetorics about community involvement and empowerment. The debate raises the prospect that the key arena for local planners will be the convoluted landscapes of civil society.

They will need to hone their social and political mapping skills in the fundamental planning work of generating low-carbon employment, minimising exposure to environmental risks and achieving basic standards in the quality of urban and rural life for all.

Jenny Crawford is RTPI head of research. Planning Theory and Practice is an international peer-reviewed journal published by Routledge in association with the RTPI. RTPI members receive a major reduction in subscription and can access the Interface section free of charge.

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