Urban Planning and Local Wisdom: The Shift toward Postmodernism and a New Urban Theory from Third World Cities
[This post is my article that was presented at the Yogyakarta International Seminar organized by the Faculty of Cultural Science of Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta on January 27, 2010. The paper is also available in this link].
Local wisdom is often held as the best solution to the challenges of urban planning that are increasingly getting more complex and obscure. The planning practice in the 21st century is facing greater challenges than that in the 20th century. Some of the challenges are the complexity of the problems and the elusiveness of solutions to those problems. This article discusses the importance of local wisdom in urban planning within the context of the shift from modernism to postmodernism and the emergence of a new urban theory rooted from cities in the developing countries including Indonesian cities.
For decades, the practice of urban planning has been concerned with making public or political decisions more rational. Means-ends rationality was considered as a useful and effective concept in the planning practice. Most leading planning scholars (Altschuler, 1965; Blowers, 1986; Friedmann, 1987) agreed that planning is associated with rationality. Rational planning as a practice of modernist planning was perceived as efficient planning accommodating a process in which course of action selected rationally to maximize the attainment of the relevant ends. Rational process of selecting the best means to achieve some pre-determined ends based on assessment of the consequences of alternative solutions.
On the contrary, post modernists challenge the knowledge foundation of modernist planning practice and theory. They posit that the postmodern era characterized by fragmented power, distrust of government and experts, and incommensurable discourse are not suitable for the practice of modernist planning. Modernist planning that identifies a relation between means and ends in society needs to be justified in terms that are broader than mere self-interest. There is a need of greater and more explicit reliance on local wisdom and more people-centered.
The practice of urban planning in the developing countries including Indonesia has been dominated by two urban theories, the Chicago School of Urban Sociology and the Los Angeles School of Urban Geography. Both urban theories are rooted in the developed world. Planning practices are constantly borrowed and replicated across borders (Roy 2005). Planning practices that replicate both urban theories through the dichotomy of developed and developing countries become ubiquitous. This becomes a problem when such a replication is no longer relevant with the unique urban phenomenon in developing countries including in Indonesia.
The purpose of this article is to identify the importance of local wisdom which has often been held as the best solution to the challenges of urban planning within the context of the shift from modernism to postmodernism and the emergence of a new urban theory rooted from cities in the developing countries. Based on the importance of local wisdom, this paper concludes with suggestions of modification to urban planning practice.
Modernist Urban Planning
Urban planning can be defined as a systematic attempt and actions in the public domain to shape the future of urban areas. There are many ways for urban planners to shape the urban future as follows:
- formulate policies to meet the needs of communities including social, economic, and physical needs and they develop the strategies to make these plans work
- develop plans for land use patterns, housing needs, parks and recreation facilities, transportation systems, economic development, environmental protection and other aspects of the future
- work with the public to develop a vision of the future and to build on that vision
function as mediator among conflicting community interests; they may also become facilitators using their professional judgment to help identify the best resolutions to the conflict
- advise public officials and citizens in shaping the future design and manage the planning process and attract public to involve in the process.
A practice of modernist planning is the positivistic rational comprehensive planning model (Innes, 1997; Harper and Stein, 1995). This planning model was developed systematically to find the best process in which course of action selected rationally to maximize the attainment of the relevant ends. This planning model attempts to formulate rational process of selecting the best means to achieve some pre-determined ends, a way of choosing the correct answer based on assessment of the consequences of alternative solutions.
The stages in rational planning including formulation of goals and objectives, identification and design of major alternatives for searching the goals, prediction of major sets of consequences that would be expected to follow upon adoption of each alternative, evaluation of consequences in relation to desired objectives and other important values, decision based on information provided in the preceding steps, implementation of this decision through appropriate institution, and feedback of actual program result and their assessment in light of the new decision situation have employed scientific method. Numerous scientific methods have been formulated to develop the stages in rational planning. Development of methods for each rational planning process was conducted by applying two methods of reasoning of deductive and inductive approaches.
Rationality has been extensively explored by many scholars such as Banfield, Friedmann, Mannheim, Weber, Simmie, and Faludi. Rationality is accepted in planning, since there is nothing wrong with rationality decisions after they have been formulated as long as the attempt is successful. Rational planning results in growth as a product, and the rational planning process may be viewed as a vehicle for the very process of growth. When the rational planning was used as primary planning paradigm, planning education was a matter of technical training, the focus was on the empirical and the quantitative (Harper and Stein, 1995).
Beauregard (1991), in his article entitled Without a Net: Modernist Planning and the Postmodern Abyss identifies the characteristics of modernist planning. He posits that (1) reality can be controlled and perfected, (2) the world is malleable because its internal logic can be discovered and manipulated, (3) planning is part of the struggle to make ourselves at home in a changing world., (4) planners involvement was as contributors to utilitarian understanding and not as people of action, (5) planners could claim a scientific and objective logic, (6) comprehensive solutions have a unitary logic, and (7) synthetic city allows planners to claim a privileged position in the realm of specialist.
Sandercock (1998) in her seminal book on post-modernism entitled Toward Cosmopolis: Planning for Multicultural Cities summarizes the modernist planning thought into five pillars include:
- Planning –meaning city and regional planning- is concerned with making public/political decision more rational.
- Planning is most effective when it is comprehensive.
- Planning is both a science and an art, based on experience, but the emphasis is usually placed on the science. … Planning knowledge and expertise are thus grounded in positive science, with its propensity for quantitative modeling and analysis
- Planning, as part of the modernization project, is a project of state-directed futures, with the state seen as possessing progressive, reformist tendencies, and as being separate from the economy.
- Planning operates in ‘the public interest’ and planners’ education privileges them in being able to identify what that interest is. (Sandercock, 1998: 27).
Postmodernism arose out of the peculiar confusion in the social science. This confusion has two distinct components: a concerted general attack on the legitimacy of social sciences and a renaissance in the specific realm of social theory (Dear, 1987: 368). The meanings of postmodernism are ambiguous since the meanings of modernism are frequently ambiguous.
Harper and Stein (1995) identify key themes of postmodernism which they believe are relevant to the planning domain –antifoundationalism, meaning and ambiguity, incommensurability, dualism of truth and reason, and plurality and difference. They argue that postmodernism is antifoundationalist in dispensing with universals as bases for truth and in rejecting claims of undisputed authority. Postmodernists make much of the ambiguity that follows from their antifoundationalism. They take ambiguity to mean the inability to fix a universal meaning to a concept.
Harper and Stein (1995) identify the danger of incommensurability in postmodernism arises not from acknowledging that there are competing goals or different views of justice and morality, but from relativizing these differences to particular communities without the possibility of their coming together. They assert that postmodernism rejects dualism and propose that pluralism should replace dualism. They posit that the way to deal with differences in postmodernism is not by presupposing incommensurable notions of rationality and truth, but by talking about them and attempting to reach consensus.
Innes (1997) identifies the post modern era that is characterized by fragmented power, distrust of government and experts, incommensurable discourse, and a new tribalism where groups celebrate their differences. Planning education must be able to enrich the body of knowledge in particular that of making connections among interests, public agencies, and profession and disciplines, between public and private sector and between government and the public. Innes (1997) posits that the planning educators need to develop new intellectual frameworks more suited to the post modern era. If we could do so, Innes (1997) believes that planning is better able to adapt to change than many other fields. The 21th century can be the century for the field of planning if the planning educator and practicing planner make it so.
Postmodernists Critique of Modernist Planning Practice
The important premise of modernist planning is rationality. Planning seeks to bring order through reliance on rational decision making and emphasis on quantitative analysis, neutral expertise and the provision of answers for decision makers (Innes, 1995; Sandercock, 1998). When the rational planning model was seen as foundational, planning educator was primarily a matter of technical training. The focus of planning education was on the empirical and the quantitative coursework.
One reason for the growing influence of the postmodern approach to planning is the demise of the rational planning model. The foundation of scientific rationality has been undermined but nothing has taken its place (Harper and Stein, 1996). In the last two decades, using the premises of postmodernism, there were found some shortcomings of rational planning model, as follows:
- Wicked problem; rational decision making is based on a faulty epistemology. Social problems are never solved, they are merely displaced by other problems.
- The veil of time; how to deal with the future. Forecasting is difficult.
- Pitfall in modeling, data analysis, optimization methods.
- Attention and information are limited, and interests constrain feasible alternatives.
- Goals are fuzzy, and criteria for evaluating consequences conflict with one another
- Rationality omits a significant portion of the relevant universe of action and interaction, not account for pre-interactive decision making or deliberation.
- Rationality has virtues as a guide for collecting and analyzing information, but in analyzing problems will see situations abstractly, narrowly, and superficially and will likely to fail to understand what social conditions mean to the people who live them.
Comprehensiveness in a plan in which modernism claims as the way to interpret reality and exclusive insights into proper values and behavior was criticized by postmodernism. The claims of comprehensiveness, integrated and coordinated actions of multi-sectoral and multi-functional violate the complexity and contingency of social reality, and impose exclusionary perspective on individuals who are culturally diverse (Beauregard, 1991 ; Sandercock, 1998). For postmodernism, there are only multiple narratives, a multiplicity of language games that are locally determined, none of which can be reconciled across speakers and all of which must be allowed their existence (Beauregard, 1991: 193).
Sandercock (1998) argues that planning is no longer exclusively concerned with comprehensive, integrated, and coordinated action, but more negotiated, political, and focused planning. This in turn makes in less document-oriented and more people centered (Sandercock, 1998: 30).
Ways of knowing
Modernist planning hold that the authority of planners derives in large measure form a mastery of theory and knowledge in the social science. Thus, planning knowledge and expertise are grounded in positive science, with its propensity for quantitative modeling and analysis (Sandercock, 1998: 27).
Postmodernist perceives knowledge as inherently unstable that we only know the world through the argument about it. Thus, the knowledge is not necessarily a reliable guide to effective action. Increased understanding can only reveal differences, not set direction. To this extent, the important thing is not causality –cause and effect relations- but meaning.
Postmodernism is concerned with symbolic representations of action and behavior. Its task is to uncover the transmitted pattern of meaning by which men communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life. (Beauregard, 1991). Language is a reflection of the attributes of a community. (Harper and Stein, 1996). Harper and Stein (1996) define community as “a social group whose members share common characteristics of heritage, beliefs, attitudes, hopes, history, culture, reflected in a common language” (p.418). Interpretation of what people do reflects their intentions, beliefs and hopes. Language cannot be separated from meaningful action.
Sandercock (1998) argues that local communities have experiental, grounded, contextual, intuitive knowledges, which are manifested through speech, songs, stories, and various visual forms rather than the more familiar kinds of planning sources such as census data, and simulation model. She suggests that planners have to learn to access these other ways of knowing
State directed vs. community-based
Modernist planning including rational planning, the incrementalist approach are classified as the social reform tradition (Friedmann, 1987). Planning is considered as a project of state directed futures. State is seen as reformist tendencies and as being separate from the economy. Planning in the social reform tradition acknowledges that there would be an inherent tendency to resist change that would give rise to conflict. However, modernist believes that these conflict situations are manageable and through rational decision making and that conflict creating situations can be eliminated or at least minimized and better managed. Modernist planning also believes that conflict can be avoided through appropriate intervention at the right time (Friedmann, 1987).
Postmodernist critique calls for community-based planning. It would replace modernist reliance on state-directed futures and top-down processes. From this perspective, citizens could dictate the agenda of the local government. Participation can lead to better public policy even if citizens bring their own narrow and selfish interest into politics. Through such selfish participation, the government is informed of these interests and pressured to respond. In this way, it produces public goods more closely attuned to citizen needs than it would if there were no participation (Verba, 1972). Verba identifies four modes of participation as alternative ways in which citizens can participate. They are voting and campaign activity which relate to electoral activity, and cooperative activity and citizen-initiated contacts which relate to non-electoral activity. The modes of participation are meaningfully different ways in which individual citizen tries to influence his government. They fit closely alternative systems of citizen-government interaction.
The domain of planning in modernist paradigm operates in the public interest and planners seek to identify that interest within community. Planners attempt to present a public image of neutrality and planning policies based on positivist science. The notion of public interest comes from a frame of reference in liberal political theory in which disinterested experts objectively and rationally analyze a problem and arrive at a solution that is in the public interest. It assumed the ability of a certain chosen, well-educated group to stand outside social processes and decide what is best for everyone else (Sandercock, 1998: 197).
Sandercock (1998) argues that the construct of the public interest and community exclude difference. She suggests that we must acknowledge that there are multiple publics and that planning in this new multicultural arena requires a new kind of multicultural literacy (Sandercock, 1998: 30).
Urban Theories from the Developed World
Two urban theories, the Chicago School of Urban Sociology and the Los Angeles School of Urban Geography have dominated the discourse of urban development in developing countries, including in Indonesia. Both urban theories are based on phenomenon that occurred in urban cities in the United States. The Chicago School of Urban Sociology, which was developed in the early 1920s explain the development of the urban migration that is controlled by generating ecological patterns, such as invasion, survival, assimilated, adaptation and cooperation. The Los Angeles School of Urban Geography initiated in the late 1990s to explain the development of metropolitan Los Angeles in the postmodern era that emphasizes the importance of the capitalist economic and political globalization of the economy.
The dominance of both urban theories in the discourse of urban development influences the urban spatial planning in developing countries. Planning practices that replicate both urban theories through the dichotomy of developed and developing countries become ubiquitous. This becomes a problem when such a replication is no longer relevant with the unique urban phenomenon in developing countries, such as the informal sector.
Neither the Chicago School of Urban Sociology nor the Los Angeles School of Urban Geography can explain the unique urban phenomenon in developing countries, including the informal sector. Both urban theories are rooted from the developed world where the informal sectors or other unique urban phenomenon in developing countries are not commonly found. The local knowledge or local wisdom plays an important role in explaining the unique urban phenomenon in the developing worlds. The local knowledge or local wisdom can be an important factor in addressing any urban problems due to the unique urban phenomenon in the developing worlds.
The dominance of the Chicago and Los Angeles Schools in the practice of urban planning in Indonesia has contributed to the lack of spaces for the informal sectors in urban areas. The spaces in urban areas are dominated by the urban sectors that have high economic value and the spaces for the informal sectors are marginalized.
The application of local knowledge or local wisdom in understanding the phenomenon of street vendors will change our perspective on the existence of street vendors in urban areas. The street vendors are not the groups failed to enter the economic system in urban areas. They are one component of the urban economy that will benefit urban development. The application of local knowledge or local wisdom in the practice of urban planning will allocate more urban spaces for the street vendors and integrate it with the formal sectors.
Modifications to Urban Planning Practice
In light of postmodernist critique of the knowledge foundations of modernist planning practice and theory and the inappropriateness of the two urban theories rooted from the developed world in the developing countries, I would argue that some suggestion will likely enhance urban planning practice in the 21st century in the developing countries, particularly in Indonesia that characterized by fragmented power, distrust of government and experts, and incommensurable discourse, as follows:
- Planning needs greater and more explicit reliance on local wisdom rather than means-end rationality.
- Planning needs to move form top-down processes to community-based planning, geared to community empowerment.
- Planning needs to deconstruct the public interest and community and acknowledge there are multiple publics and thus planning requires a new kind of multicultural literacy.
- Planning needs to embrace plurality and difference. The post-modern critique calls for planner to abandon the belief that there is absolute truth or a unitary public interest.
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