Home Management Contemporary Urban Planning
PLANNERS AND POWER
Planners are basically advisors. Alone, the planner does not have the power to do many of the things that cause change within the community: to
commit public funds, to enact laws, to enter into contracts, or to exercise the power of eminent domain. Where the planner does have some legal powers, perhaps in connection with land-use controls, as discussed in Chapter 9, they are powers granted by the legislative body and removable by that same body. The planner's influence on events, then, stems from the capacity to articulate viewpoints and develop consensus and coalitions among those who do wield significant power.
A plan is a vision of the future. A planner moves events to the extent that he or she can cause that vision to be shared. In the early years of planning—as noted in connection with the Plan of Chicago—the view was that the plan came solely, or almost solely, from the head of the planner. It was then his or her task to sell that vision to the public and to the political establishment of the community. This is exactly what was done with great success in the Chicago case by Burnham and his associates.
A more modern view is that good plans spring from the community itself. In this view the planner's proper role is to facilitate the planning process and to aid it with his or her own expertise, rather than to deliver the plan full blown. Several points can be made in favor of the modern approach. First, it avoids elitism. The planner has particular skills which the average citizen does not have, but that capacity does not make the planner wiser in general. Second, there is no way that the planner, or any other single individual or group, can have a complete and an accurate view of the interests of the citizenry as a whole. Only the individual can really know his or her own needs and preferences. If that is true, only by taking the citizenry into the planning process at an early stage can their interests be fully represented. Last, it may be argued that a plan formed with substantial community input is more likely to be carried out than a plan of equal quality that has simply been drawn up directly by professionals. The very act of participating in the planning process informs the citizen about the details of the plan. Giving time and energy to the process of planning builds the citizens' commitment to the plan. What was "their plan" now becomes "our plan." But there are also some counterarguments. We will come to these shortly.
Planners now view involvement with politics very differently than they did a few decades ago. In the 1920s and 1930s, it was common to try to isolate the planning process from politics—to keep planning "above" politics. A common political arrangement was to have the planner report solely to a "nonpolitical" planning board. In time it was realized that since the political sphere was where decisions were made, isolating the planner from politics rendered him or her much less effective. Then, too, it came to be realized that the term nonpolitical is misleading. If one appoints a group of prominent citizens as a lay board, one has, in fact, made a political decision. A group of nonprominent citizens might give the planners a very different set of instructions. No one is really nonpolitical, since everyone has interests and values, and that is the substance of which politics is made.
The notion of the planning function as one that should be nonpolitical came out of the urban political reform movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.1 Political power was wrested from the old machines like New York's Tammany Hall and vested in civil servants; so- called reform administrations; and in some cities, professional, nonpartisan managers. The city manager form of government, in which the elected mayor has a largely ceremonial role and the real administrative responsibility and authority are vested in a city manager hired by the legislative body, comes from the reform movement.
In the reform view, politics was a seamy and often corrupt process, and the more that planning could be kept out of it, the better. A more modern view would be that the reform movement was in some measure a victory of the upper-middle class over machines, which often represented, albeit with some of the gravy skimmed off the top, the working class and newly arrived immigrants. In short, reform was not the elimination of politics so much as a transfer of political power.
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