More of the same is not enough! How could strategic spatial planning be instrumental in dealing with the challenges ahead?
The environmental crisis, the energy crisis, the financial crisis, and the subsequent economic crisis—to name only a few of the crucial issues of our times—are causing an outcry for change, even structural change, in our society. Change is the sum of a great number of acts (individual, group, institutional) of reperception and behaviour change at every level. This takes decision makers, planners, institutions, and citizens out of their comfort zones and compels them to confront their key beliefs, to challenge conventional wisdom, and to examine the prospects of ‘breaking out of the box’. Not everyone (individual planners, groups, institutions, citizens) wants to give up the power associated with the status quo. Society is starting to reflect on new concepts and new ways of thinking that change the way resources are used, (re)distributed, and allocated, and the way the regulatory powers (market versus state) are exercised. As the call for change has been central to planning, one of the key challenges is to develop an approach to planning that will make these ideas and concepts ‘travel’ and that will translate them into an array of practice arenas, which in turn will transform these arenas themselves, rather than merely being absorbed within them. The spectrum for change cannot be so open that anything is possible, as if we could achieve anything we wanted to achieve. Conditions and structural constraints on ‘what is’ and ‘what is not’ possible are imposed by the past and the present. These conditions and constraints have to be questioned and challenged in the process, given the specific context of time and place. So, in order to imagine the conditions and constraints differently, we need to deal with history and to overcome history. This defines the boundaries of a fairly large space between openness and fixity. Thus, change becomes the activity whereby (within certain boundaries) that which might become is ‘imposed’ on that which is, and it is ‘imposed’ for the purpose of transforming what ‘is’ into what ‘might become’. This differs from the established or traditional way of thinking, in which there is no choice and we are not even aware of other possibilities. In this paper I argue for a strategic planning approach that focuses, invents, creates, and is implemented—in relation to the context, and to the social and cultural values to which a particular place or society is historically committed—as something new rather than as a solution arrived at as a result of existing trends. It is only by working backwards (‘reverse thinking’, ‘back casting’) that planning is able to open up new perspectives and take other directions. Subsequently I reflect on the changing role of planners in this respect.
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