Category Archives: Planning Theory

Reflection on Aristotle’s “The Politics”

While I’ve passed my quals and technically need just one more methods course, nothing could stop me from taking this semester’s special seminar, Social Justice and Public Policy, with Price School Associate Professor Lisa Schweitzer. Nothing. Lisa is one of the unicorn academics — amazing in all regards — and this particular class is a veritable carnival of bringing justice theory to bear on contemporary policy debates. Each week, she provides a reading prompt and we write one-page responses. Given that the readings are classics, I thought it might be interesting to publish those prompts and responses over the course of the semester.

“Which three points about justice, in Aristotle’s framing, strike you as being most outmoded/unhelpful/wrong vis-a-vis your own internal sense of justice? Why? Can you identify three points of agreement between your own ideas about justice and Aristotle’s?”

A first-time contemporary reader can struggle with Aristotle. Setting aside that he affirms the institutions of slavery and gender inequality, he is an unabashed aristocrat. No revolutionary, he asserts there are three types of good city (polis) formation: monarchy, aristocracy, and constitutional government (or polity), all in contradistinction to their respective perversions: tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. Above all, Aristotle prefers the king with unique “moral wisdom” (p. 281), who will govern the polis justly, as would the finest of household managers. Aristotle bases this and all other positions in the reading in the implicit and teleological argument that man is, by nature, “a political animal” (p. 265), and cities, organic sites for the common good. It is natural for man to convene in the city, and thus, the most correct and just practices are those that afford the polis the greatest amount of natural harmony. It is on the issue of naturalness that Aristotle’s argument hinges, and so by turns fails and succeeds.

Among the first problems is his conception of the slave. Again, this is less about the moment in history than it how he waffles in describing that particular household relationship’s agents. To wit, there is such thing as a bad citizen and a bad man, and sometimes the slave possesses the “rational faculty of the soul” (p. 267). By that extension, can we feel truly comfortable agreeing that the ruler/ruled relationship is “beneficial” (ibid) and “necessary” (ibid) in all cases? Taken to the extreme, if the city’s leader is a tyrant and his position thus unnatural, how do we categorize the rest of the city member’s roles? Are the slaves now freedmen, household-managing citizens?

Second, while Aristotle does not countenance social mobility, nature certainly does. Male mammals do not fight each other for fun, but for status and leadership. Aristotle’s hermetic class conception thus makes little sense depicted as “natural.” Aristotle all but admits this weakness in his discussion about who might become citizens when. In some instances the wealthy mechanic may enjoy citizenship, but never the laborer. In other instances, one citizen parent will do, in others, having both is mandatory.

Finally, Aristotle is a straight-up xenophobe – in any era. Those without need for cities are “barbarians” (p. 265), and no resident alien or foreigner may ever hope for citizenship. Except national borders are social constructs – there’s really nothing natural about them other than the regrettable human tic to reject the unknown.

However, Aristotle’s emphasis on one’s natural commitment to and responsibility for the collective good is well taken. Returning to the topic of the ruler, Aristotle argues that city governments who adjudicate on behalf of the common interest are just. By contrast, governments operating on behalf of individual interests are “perversions” (p. 285) – they are “despotic; whereas the city is an association of free men” (ibid). Within this, distributive justice is meted out in terms of “proportionate equality:” one’s take from the city must accord with his contribution to it. Romney and sundry CEOs who ship jobs overseas are, in Aristotelian terms, grossly overpaid.

Not surprisingly, Aristotle recognizes there is a rightful and natural limit to one’s wealth, and thus privileges use over exchange value. Within the household, the manager must practice moral virtue, seeking out only things that have function, a legitimate use. Through this art of acquisition of wealth, he provides for and justly leads his household. The household manager who abandons this art in favor of the art of acquisition of currency acts unnaturally.

Finally, Aristotle’s wisdom has material implications. Naming usury as the worst of all types of exchange, he explains, “Acquisition for acquisition’s sake…makes barren metal breed” (p. 274). Reading this, I thought of balloon payments and sketchy refinancing contracts, and saw miles and miles of abandoned houses in my mind’s eye.

In the end I find Aristotle’s conception of natural order best serves questions of equality, and not society’s constitution. “What works for the collective?” is as critically important a question today as it was when he first wrote. It is up to us to modify what his “collective” means.

Work cited
Aristotle. (2007). The Politics. In  Justice: A Reader, M. Sandel, ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Leave a comment

Filed under Community Development, Planning Theory

Scott, J.C. (1998). _Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed_. New Haven: Yale University Press.

James Scott, Ph.D., Yale University, is the Sterling Professor of Political Science and Professor of Anthropology and is Director of the Agrarian Studies Program. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has held grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Science, Science, Technology and Society Program at M.I.T., and the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. His research concerns political economy, comparative agrarian societies, theories of hegemony and resistance, peasant politics, revolution, Southeast Asia, theories of class relations and anarchism.

This book is a “case against the imperialism of high-modernist, planned social order” (6). Scott advocates that local knowledge (metis, knowledge that comes only through practical experience) is necessary for any plan’s success. In studying sedentarization, Scott found the state tries “to make a society legible” (2) for taxing, conscription, and against rebellion. Modern European statecraft’s dedication to rationalization has had major impacts on society and the environment. In some cases, these reason-led planning schemes have been major disasters, including China’s Great Leap Forward, Russian collectivization, compulsory villagization in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ethiopia are “among the great human tragedies of the 20th century” (3). Less dramatic are the agricultural schemes and the new cities of Brasília and Chandigarh.

“Legibility is a condition of manipulation” (183).

However, when there are disasters, they require this “pernicious combination of four elements” (4):

  1. “administrative ordering of nature and society” (4)
  2. “high modernist ideology” at the state level, namely, an overweening belief in modernity, science, reason. This view is wholly uncritical of modernism and when challenged, retreats into projects of “miniaturization”
  3. an authoritarian state that uses its total power for the scheme’s implementation
  4. a “prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these [the authoritarian state’s] plans” (5)

Ironically, the tragedies of high-modernism were so in two ways. First, the modernists were profoundly arrogant and hubristic. And yet, second, their motivations were well-intentioned; they wanted to make the human condition better. Modernist experts thought they were much more informed than they really were, as well as much smarter than their truly knowledgeable and competent subjects. They consistently sought aesthetic order, and this dimension consistently wound up substituting, per Jacobs (1961) visual order for the real, social thing.

Scott hails Jacobs for her thoughts on diversity and local social knowledge. Evoking her and metis, he makes the following recommendations (345):

  1. “take small steps”  – move, observe, act advisedly
  2. “favor reversibility”  – if you can’t reverse the intervention, you can’t reverse its effects
  3. “plan on surprises” – design in flexibility
  4. “plan on human inventiveness” – assume people can improve on things with eventual knowledge gained

1 Comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Research Fields

Logan, J.R. and Molotch, H.L. (2007). The Social Construction of Cities (Ch.1); Places as Commodities (Ch.2); The City as a Growth Machine (Ch.3). In _Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place_. 20th anniversary ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

John Logan, PhD Sociology from UC Berkeley, is Professor of Sociology at Brown University. Prior to this post he was Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Public Administration at the University of Albany, SUNY; Director of the Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research; and Director of the Urban China Research Network. His current research includes the sociospatial implications of Hurricane Katrina; immigrant routes to political incorporation; immigration, ethnicity, and the family in the early 20th century; group boundaries in early 20th century New York and Chicago.

Harvey Molotch, PhD Sociology from the University of Chicago, is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, Sociology at New York University. His areas of interest include: urban development and political economy; the sociology of architecture, design, and consumption; environmental degradation; and mechanisms of interactional inequalities.

The market, just like space, is a social construction. Logan and Molotch seek to understand the tension between “use and exchange value in cities” (2). Component to this is a move away from the neoclassical economist and the Marxian determinist perspectives, and toward an “authentic urban sociology” (49). For the former, its public choice model “trivializes” (42) sociospatial inequalities by chalking them up to matters of choice, and the latter’s missing explorations into human ecology and community studies.

“Places are not simply affected by the institutional maneuvers surrounding them. Places are those machinations” (43).

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Research Fields

Lynch, K. (1960). _The Image of the City_. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Before getting his Bachelor of City Planning degree from MIT and becoming a longtime faculty member at the MIT School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Lynch studied at Yale University and under Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in Wisconsin. He is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers in contemporary urban planning.

No planning student doesn’t know about this book. In 1960, Lynch published case studies of three cities, Boston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles (field observation and interviews), advocating that urban design is “a temporal art” (1) and that a city’s legibility, the facility with which a city’s components can be distinguished, is essential. Moreover, the visual quality of the environment serves a distinct social purpose, namely, environmental security. The three components of an environmental image are identity, structure, and meaning. This book is a study into and about the city image’s identity and structures.

Imageability is the “quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer” (9). Other names are legibility or visibility – this study is expressly interested in “the need for identity and structure in our perceptual world, and to illustrate the special relevance of this quality to the particular case of the complex, shifting urban environment” (10).

The book’s thesis: we can create our environment’s image “by operation on the external physical shape” (12), as well as internally.

The five elements of a city! (1) path (2) edge (3) node (4) landmark (5) district

They interrelate and are sometimes two things at once, or embedded in each other (e.g. districts contain). They can be designed specifically to give sensuous clues. For example, paths, which generally structure the city, can be designed with/for: visual hierarchies, clarity of direction, differentiated, kinesthetic, etc. We can make an imageable landscape is that is “visible, coherent, and clear” (91).

“As an artificial world, the city should be so in the best sense: made by art, shaped for human purposes” (95).

Form qualities can be summarized as having: singularity, form simplicity, continuity, dominance, clarity of joint, directional differentiation, visual scope, motion awareness, time series, and names and meanings. The “sense of the whole” speaks to how our “five elements—path, edge, district, node, and landmark—must be considered simply as convenient empirical categories, within and around which it has been possible to group a mass of information” (109). Lynch avers that “the functional unit of our environment” (112) is the metropolitan one, in which a major node is surrounded by minor ones. “It is the thesis of these pages that a large city can have sensuous form” (119).

“A highly developed art of urban design is linked to the creation of a critical and attentive audience. If art and audience grow together, then our cities will be a source of daily enjoyment to millions of their inhabitants” (120).

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Public Space, Research Fields

Lefebvre, H. (2003). Urban Form. In _The Urban Revolution_. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

Henri Lefebvre, originator of the term “right to the city,” was a French sociologist, Marxist scholar, and philosopher. He was a member of the French Communist Party (until later he became one of its biggest detractors), professor of philosophy, member of the French Resistance, an outspoken critic of Stalin, founding theorist of COBRA and the Situationist International, to name a few. His controversial, sometimes unfashionable views influenced 20th century philosophy, sociology, geography, political science, and literary criticism. Lefebvre’s understanding that space is in fact a social production pervades nearly all contemporary urban theory. It is hard to overestimate Lefebvre’s impact.

“What does the city create? Nothing. It centralizes creation. And yet it creates everything” (117).

The essence, to Lefebvre, is the urban phenomenon’s own centrality, specifically as it intersects with what makes or unmakes it. This potential is “the meaning of urban space-time” (116) and the concomitant vantage is a top-down consolidation, rendering it, through “confusion” (ibid), perceptible and revealed. The city is “associated with the logic of form and with the dialectic of content (with the differences and contradictions of content)” (119). Structures are both “morphological” and “sociological” (116).

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Public Space, Research Fields

De Certeau, M. (1984). Walking in the City. In _The Practice of Everyday Life_. Berkeley and Los Angeles: The University of California Press.

French Jesuit and scholar, Michel de Certeau, received degrees in classics and philosophy before being ordained in 1956. He bth co-founded the journal Christus and received his junior doctorate at the Sorbonne in 1960. His influences include Freud and Lacan, and so his work reflects the intersection of history, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, social sciences, and mysticism.

In “Walking in the City,” Certeau’s everyday practice of the flâneur bespeaks a more optimistic view of the urban phenomenon. While institutions, via the “space planner urbanist, city planner or cartographer” (93) have prescribed the city’s grid pattern and appointed major thoroughfares, the “ordinary practitioners” (ibid) step off these formal roadways, fashioning their own, uniquely personal pathways. This chapter, therefore, is a discourse about the “migrational, metaphorical” (ibid) city asserting itself within the planned one.

The pedestrian-citizen relays her opinions, preferences, ambitions, memories, herself by walking — the walk is an expression of the democratic act. Certeau’s pedestrian act has three qualities that immediately make it distinct from the spatial system. First, it is present: the walker traversing the streets recalls Lefebvrian (2003) centrality — any place can be the place at any given moment. This present-ness of the pedestrian act manifests its second quality, discreteness. “The walker ‘makes a selection’” (98). Third, walking is phatic, communicative but not necessarily informational.

“Walking affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects, etc., the trajectories it ‘speaks’…. These enunciatory operations are of an unlimited diversity. They therefore cannot be reduced to their graphic [institution-determined] trail” (99).

This “rhetoric of walking” (100) is separate from the “proper meanings” constructed and dictated by hegemony-promoting city designers. The democratic process is underscored in Certeau’s “chorus of idle footsteps” (97), wherein walking “is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian…is a spatial acting-out of the place…[and] implies relations among differentiated positions” (97).

Certeau extols the “heterogeneous and even contrary elements” (107) in the city. Likewise, he does not take for granted that these elements are privileged, much less encouraged, by hegemonic powers. He reminds us “spatial practices in fact secretly structure the determining conditions of social life” (96), and explains it is the “symptomatic tendency of functionalist totalitarianism” (see Scott, 1998), to override organic, neighborhood discourses, “local authorities” (p.106), in favor of their diametric opposites, readily legible and categorical systems.

Not featured in this chapter but central to Certeau’s premise are “strategies” and “tactics.” Strategies involve using preordained, dedicated spaces for activities, such as state-sanctioned areas for grassroots demonstrations. Tactics, by contrast, take place in novel spaces, outside the state’s authority and in direct contest to the status quo. Certeau favors tactics by far, as do the Situationists.

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Public Space, Research Fields

Augé, M. (1995). _Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity_. London and New York: Verso.

French anthropologist Marc Augé has had a career in three stages, moving from African research, to European, then global. This particular book, first an essay, describes first “place” in the anthropological sense — it is the link between space and social organization. “Place” gives us context (Dourish, 2001), and so long as a social connection can be made there, a space becomes place.

Augé’s non-places, by contrast, are the places where people move (highways), wait to move (airline terminals), or stay as they move (hotel rooms) around the world in this globalized world. These are the places people flow through as they operate on behalf of Castells’ (1989, 1996) spaces of flows, and, per Castells, these places often look like each other on purpose. One’s stay is too quick, too ephemeral, the purpose too uni-functional, and the place really too generic for any substantive experience to take place. Individuals may travel the globe via these non-places, but they don’t really see it.

“A paradox of non-place: a foreigner lost in a country he does not know (a ‘passing stranger’) can feel at home there only in the anonymity of motorways, service stations, big stores or hotel chains” (106).

Not exactly non-places, but similar, are Walzer’s (1986) “single-minded spaces.” In “Pleasures and Costs of Urbanity,” Walzer explains single-minded spaces are those design by city planners or entrepreneurial corporatists with a single thing in mind, “and used by similarly single-minded citizens” (ibid, 470). However, his condemnation, like Augé’s, is not absolute. These places serve purposes. However, the problem for Walzer is that “open-minded spaces,” those designed for multiple uses, anticipated and impromptu, and which contribute to culture-making, lose ground to the single-minded ones. Like Augé, he wants us to notice the difference.

“In the concrete reality of today’s world, places and spaces, places and non-places intertwine and tangle together. The possibility of non-place is never absent from any place. Place becomes a refuge to the habitué of non-places (who may dream, for example, of owning a second home rooted in the depths of the countryside). Places and non-places are opposed (or attracted) like the words and notions that enable us to describe them. But the fashionable worlds — those that did not exist thirty years ago — are associated with non-places” (107).

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Public Space, Research Fields

Kohn, M. (2004). Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public Space. New York: Routledge.

Margaret Kohn, PhD in Political Science from Cornell University, is Associate Professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Political Science. Her interests are the history of political thought, critical theory, colonialism, and urbanism. She is the author of Radical Space: Building the House of the People and Brave New Neighborhoods. Her new book Political Theories of Decolonization (with Keally McBride) was recently published by Oxford University Press.

Kohn discusses the impact of the proliferation of restrictions and privatization of public space in the United States. She says that while some say we need more civility (read, no homeless) in our public spaces, she advocates for diverse, heterogeneous actions, even civil unrest. Simply, the loss of public space is bad for democratic politics.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Public Space, Research Fields

Hayden, D. (1995). _The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History_. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Dolores Hayden, M.Arch from Harvard University, is Professor of Architecture and American Studies at Yale University. She is the president of the Urban History Association; a former Guggenheim, Rockefeller, NEH, NEA, and ACLS/Ford fellow; has taught at MIT, Berkeley, and UCLA; was founder and president of The Power of Place in Los Angeles from 1984 to 1991; and has published six award-winning books about the character and design of American cities.

Hayden’s is a feminist architectural historian’s perspective, brought beautifully and thoughtfully to bear in The Power of Place. In it she examines the terrain of urban landscape theory and history, as well as tells her story of negotiating the terrain of urban practice, sharing various projects undertaken by The Power of Place non-profits arts and humanities group. She believes we must claim the “entire urban cultural landscape as an important part of American history” (111) and that urban preservation “must emphasize public processes and public memory” (ibid).

“It all comes back to community process” (75).

She asserts that cultural geography, architecture, and social history intersect to create the history of cultural landscape, the production of space and human patterns — cultural identity, social history, and urban design are inextricably linked. Hayden follows Lefebvre (1991), who connected the sense of place felt in the cultural landscape (e.g. biological reproduction [body], reproduction of the labor force [housing], and reproduction of social relations [public space of the city] to the political economy. More, the territorial histories are based concretely and critically in race and gender, as space shapes and constrains social reproduction.

Place is especially important because studying it encourages a reclamation of history and recovery of memory. She advocates for architectural preservation, vernacular especially, because those sites are often where conflicts over power were undertaken, “counter-space.” In addition, she argues for environmental protection and landscape preservation, and public art for public memory. Relevant public art engages the historical and material, and has a “new kind of relationship to the people whose history is being represented” (76).

Hayden speaks of the invisible Angelenos, and the workers’ landscapes and livelihoods. She recounts the stories of and The Power of Place projects for: Biddy Mason, the Latina union leaders of the Embassy Auditorium, and Little Tokyo on First Street. She believes in the power of “shared authority” (Michael Frisch, 1990), and explains the rewards for undertaking the difficult tasks of collaboration for historical preservation:

  • urban history is the richest source for historical study
  • attaching history into city design is quite inexpensive
  • designation of incredibly important places obviates any need to separate out constituencies into academic categories — all are welcome.

“Any historic place, once protected and interpreted, potentially has the power to serve as a lookout for future generations who are trying to plan the future, having come to terms with the past” (247).

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Public Space, Research Fields

Fraser, N. (1992). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. _Social Text_, 25/26: 56-80.

Nancy Fraser, PhD Philosophy from CUNY, is the Henry A. and Louis Loeb Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research. She examines social and political theory, feminist theory, and contemporary French and German though. She is an expert on Habermas and teaches courses on him, as well as Critiques of Capitalism, Reading Marx, and various PhD seminars.

In this groundbreaking piece, Fraser corrects Habermas’ bourgeois public sphere, developing a “new, post-borgeois model of the public sphere” (57). Habermas, Fraser contends, makes four hegemonic assumptions in his model: (1) social equality isn’t necessary for democracy, (2) one comprehensive public sphere is preferable to a multitude, (3) only the “common good” should be discussed, not individual affairs (a major obstacle to overcoming domestic and sexual abuse), and (4) there must be a sharp line demarcating civil society and the state. Habermas’ “bracketing of differences” naively presumes a space devoid of culture and, more troubling, pushes the dominant group agenda.

In truth, there are multiple kinds of publics in two kinds of modern societies. The first, the stratified society, upholds structural inequalities, therefore, contestation is better at achieving participatory equality than a singly bourgeois public sphere. “Subaltern counterpublics” throughout history have created “alternate publics” to protest separatism and inequality. Counterpublics operate as “spaces of withdrawal and regroupment” (68) and “function as bases and training grounds for agitational activities directed toward wide publics” (ibid).

The second type of state, the egalitarian, multicultural one, is classless, yes, but not necessarily homogeneous. To attempt a single bourgeois public sphere in such a society would be its dissolution, manifest. But there can be debates within the egalitarian society regarding issues that affect everyone. The “civic republican” concept of the public sphere: “preferences, interests, and identities are as much outcomes as antecedents of public deliberation, indeed are discursively constituted in and through it” (72). Fraser ultimately argues for us to think about “strong and weak publics, as well as about various hybrid forms” (76) to integrate the publics into the decision-making process.

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Research Fields

Fainstein, S. (2010). _The Just City_. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

Susan Fainstein received her PhD in Political Science from MIT and is Professor in Urban Planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and Kennedy School. She has taught at Columbia and Rutgers Universities, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Amsterdam and the University of Witwatersrand. Her research focuses on comparative urban policy, planning theory, and urban redevelopment. Her books include: The Just City; The City Builders: Property, Politics, and Planning in London and New York; Restructuring the City; and Urban Political Movements. She’s also coedited pieces on urban tourism, gender and planning, planning theory, and urban theory.

In this book, Fainstein develops an urban theory of justice and uses it to asses extant and potential programs and institutions. Building on Rawls’ concept of justice as fairness, she proposes a just city exhibits equity, democracy, and diversity. Moreover, the justice criterion “requires the policy maker to ask, efficiency or effectiveness to what end?” (9). This book is a proposal for “realistic utopianism,” wherein she advocates for Sen’s (1992, 1999) and Nussbaum’s (2000) respective capabilities theory view. Following Nussbaum’s threshold level of capabilities, Fainstein upholds this metric: the “potential to ‘live as a dignified free human being who shapes his or her own life'” (as cited on 166). She also proposes Fraser’s (2003) “nonreformist reforms” approach affirming, like Castells (1983), that cities are the sites for collective consumption. She frames effective social movements as just urban policies and argues they do have transformative potential despite their local scale.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Annotated Bibliographies, Community Development, Major Field, Planning Theory, Research Fields