University readings resonating with life


I am currently studying towards a Postgraduate Diploma of Planning from Massey University. The Diploma which will take me two years to do part time has a core paper called Planning Theory, which I have to do. And as I work my way through the readings of the paper I have found that several of them resonate to varying degrees with life as we currently know it.

Take the paper Public participation in planning: An intellectual history by Marcus Lane (2005) which has a significant segment on Sherryl Arnstein’s 1969 paper called The Ladder of Participation as an example. Arnstein was a social worker somewhere in the United States, where she witnessed the effects of civil planning including the disconnect between planners and the communities their work impacted on. She describes an eight rung ladder which is a bit like the property ladder – the most disconnected are not even on the ladder. Of those who are, the ones on ladder rung no. 1, 2 and 3 are the most disadvantaged with those who choose to participate in the public planning process simply being manipulated by having the terms of their engagement controlled by authority. Those on rungs 4 and 5 are consulted about matters of the day, and might have input, but in reality it is but a token gesture. But the real power, which includes the ability to set down the rules of engagement, determine what subject matter shall be up for discussion and – not quite admitted to, but certainly implied – what happens to the public input after statutory consultation ends is reserved for those on rungs no. 7 and 8.

The ladder of public participation (Arnstein S., 1969)

I cannot help but wonder about how well Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation could describe New Zealand in 2019.

Lane (2005)also goes into depth about three planning models. The first, the blueprint model, which western countries have largely transited away from, but which many former Communist states are still beholden to are large scale, top down exercises. They were not as the former Soviet bloc nations found out in any respect designed for public input. This is consistent with positions 1, 2 and 3 on Arnstein’s ladder. No.’s 4 and 5 are best described by synoptic planning, where public input is tokenistic. Synoptic planning is subject to criticism – much justified – though it is still a potentially viable mode today because it allows some input, provides a means to address the issues and tries to address the problems that enter into all planning such as the trade off’s, actions taken and so forth.

Another one by Joe Painter (2006)examines the Prosaic geographies of stateness, in which he explores the mundane acts and processes of everyday life. Painter argues that the act of passing legislation in itself is not all that powerful. The power is in the actions of the agencies and individuals tasked with giving effect to it – the Police who decide whether to arrest a suspect and charge him/her; the nurse administering medication in a hospital or the doctor writing the script; the clerk who has to write the letter telling the owner of a property whose pool has no fence of their legal obligations and so on. It turns out that the mundane and the ordinary have more clout than one thinks by their collective and individual actions.

The theory of planning can at times be dry, but for one to understand how the bureaucrats we entrust with planning the use of our resources and amenities reach the decisions they do, we need to understand the nature of the profession they work in.