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Planning Perspectives, 14 (1999) 327345

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945: three signi cant developments but no paradigm shifts
School of Planning and Architecture, University of the West of England, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK

In recent times it has become fashionable to describe major changes in the history of ideas as paradigm shifts, and some have described changes in town planning thought since the end of the Second World War in these terms. In this article I offer an overview of the history of town planning thought since 1945, and suggest that there have been three outstanding changes in planning thought over this period. These are, rst, the shift in the 1960s from the view of town planning as an exercise in physical planning and urban design to the systems and rational process views of planning; second, the shift from the view of town planning as an activity requiring some technical expertise to the view of planning as a political process of making value-judgements about environmental change in which the planner acts as a manager and facilitator of that process; and third, the shift from modernist to postmodernist planning theory. I argue that none of these changes represents a paradigm change in anything like the strong sense of that term. Rather, they are better viewed as signi cant developments which have lled out and enriched the rather primitive town planning theory which existed half a century ago.

Introduction Over the fty-year period since the end of the Second World War there have been a number of important shifts in town planning theory. But what have been the most signi cant changes, and how signi cant have these changes been? In this paper I offer a retrospective overview of the evolution of town planning thought since 1945, and an interpretation of the most signi cant shifts in planning thought over this period. My geographical focus will be on planning theory as it has developed in Britain and North America, though the developments I describe here have been in uential elsewhere. My conceptual focus will be on those ideas or theories that have been concerned with clarifying what kind of an activity town planning is (and hence what skills are appropriate to its practice). In other words, I shall concentrate on changing conceptions of town planning itself over the last fty years. But I shall also examine the modernistpostmodernist debate and its bearing on changing views about the purposes (and hence normative theory) of town planning.

Nigel Taylor is a Principal Lecturer in the School of Planning and Architecture in the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of the West of England. He teaches courses in the theory and philosophy of town planning, and the aesthetics of urban design. He has published articles on these subjects in all the major planning journals. His book Urban Planning Theory Since 1945 was published in 1998. Planning Perspectives ISSN 0266-5433 print/ISSN 1466-4518 online # 1999 Taylor & Francis Ltd



In studies of the history of ideas, it has become fashionable to describe signi cant shifts in thought as paradigm shifts, and some planning theorists have applied this concept to changes in town planning thought since 1945 [1]. Therefore, in addition to offering an account of the main shifts in (Anglo-American) town planning theory since 1945, I shall also assess whether it is appropriate to describe these changes as paradigm shifts. I begin, in the next section, by describing the concept of paradigms as employed by the American historian of science, Thomas Kuhn. Following that, I offer, from a British perspective, an account of the three most signi cant shifts in the way the activity of town planning has been conceived since 1945. Though signi cant, I argue that, in anything like a strong sense of the term as it is used by Kuhn, it is inappropriate to describe these changes in planning thought as paradigm shifts.

The idea of paradigms and paradigm shifts The use of the term paradigm to describe major shifts in thought was rst coined by Thomas Kuhn [2] in his account of the history of scienti c thought. Before Kuhn, it was widely assumed that scienti c knowledge had grown steadily through history as more and more empirical evidence of phenomena had been accumulated. Kuhns examination of the history of science led him to conclude that this gradualist, evolutionary view of the advance of scienti c knowledge was misleading. For, according to Kuhn, if we examine any branch of science, we nd that there are certain fundamental theories, conceptions or presuppositions which hold steady for very long periods often for hundreds of years. These settled views of the world become so fundamental to peoples whole conceptual scheme of reality that it is extremely dif cult (and in some cases impossible) for most people to think of reality as being different; that, indeed, is why such views are fundamental. Because these fundamental theories constitute peoples view of the world (or a signi cant part of it), they are, literally, world views, and it is these enduring world views which Kuhn describes as paradigms. Examples of paradigms in the history of science would be the pre-Copernican view that the Earth was at and at the centre of the Universe, the pre-Darwinian view that human beings had somehow been created on this planet separate from other species, and the Newtonian model of a mechanical Universe. Kuhns account of the history of science allows that, through the period in which any given paradigm prevails, advances in scienti c theory still occur as a result of empirical research which uncovers fresh evidence about phenomena. Nevertheless, according to Kuhn, at any time most scienti c research and theoretical development operates within the presuppositions of a prevailing, and more fundamental, world view or paradigm, and for the most part this latter goes unquestioned. In this respect, most scienti c research amounts to lling in some of the details of, and so further re ning, a given paradigm. Because most scienti c research conforms to the norms of an established paradigm in this way, Kuhn also describes it as normal science. During the long periods of history in which a given paradigm prevails, scientists are often aware of empirical evidence which does not t the prevailing paradigm, which the prevailing paradigm seems unable satisfactorily to explain. However, according to Kuhn, most scientists do not allow this contrary evidence to unseat their adherence to the

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945


paradigm on which they rely to explain phenomena in the world. Rather, they tend to turn a blind eye to these puzzling phenomena, often in the belief that one day someone will succeed in explaining the seemingly anomalous evidence within the framework of the given paradigm. The great scientists in history, however, have typically been curious about anomalous evidence which a prevailing paradigm is unable to explain and, as a result, have created a radically new account of the world which succeeds in explaining the hitherto puzzling evidence as well as the evidence previously explained by the old paradigm. This new fundamental theory amounts to a whole new conceptual scheme, world view, or paradigm. In Kuhns terms, then, a paradigm shift is a revolutionary shift in thought, because a whole way of perceiving some aspect of the world is overturned and replaced by a new theoretical perspective. Examples of such paradigm shifts noted by Kuhn were the shift from viewing the Earth as at and at the centre of the Universe to seeing it as round and orbiting the Sun, the shift from a creationist to a Darwinian evolutionary model of human origins and development, and the shift from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian view of space and time [3]. It should be clear from this account that, for Kuhn, paradigm shifts are fundamental theoretical changes. It is this which explains why paradigm shifts typically occur infrequently in the history of science. Any given paradigm, once established, shapes the whole way a scienti c community (and beyond that, the general public) views some aspect of the world, and tends to endure for centuries, not just decades. If, then, we adopt this strong Kuhnian conception of paradigms, it would seem initially unlikely that there would be several paradigm shifts in the eld of town planning theory over the short span of the last fty years. Furthermore, Kuhn was describing changes in scienti c thought that is, major changes in the way people have described and explained some aspect of reality as a matter of fact and town planning is not a science. Rather, it is a form of social action directed at shaping the physical environment to accord with certain valued ideals. In other words, town planning is a normative practice (although in seeking to realize certain valued ends town planning, like any normative practice, draws on relevant scienti c understanding). Of course, we are not compelled to adopt the strong, fundamentalist conception of paradigms described above. It is possible to use the concept in a weaker, more generous sense to describe shifts of thought which are signi cant, but not necessarily fundamental to peoples world view or conceptual scheme [4]. Moreover, although town planning is not strictly a science, the Kuhnian notion of paradigm shifts can also be extended to describe fundamental, or signi cant, shifts in values and ethical thinking [5]. However, although there is nothing to stop us using the concept of paradigm shifts in these more liberal ways, we need to be alert to the dangers of over-using the concept. If every twist and turn in planning thought over the past fty years is described as another paradigm shift, the very notion of a paradigm shift becomes super uous. I therefore favour the use of the term in its purer, more strict (and restricted) sense. Accordingly, it is in terms of this stronger conception of the term that I shall argue that, whilst there have been some signi cant changes in the way the activity of town planning has been conceived over the last halfcentury, none of these amounts to a paradigm shift. My account of town planning theory since 1945 is organized as follows. In the next section I summarize what seems to me to be two signi cant innovations in the way the



activity or discipline of town planning has been conceived and de ned, both of which emerged in Britain and the USA in the 1960s. The rst was the shift from the urban design tradition of planning to the systems and rational process views of planning. The second was a shift from a substantive to a procedural conception of planning. This latter evolved further through the 1970s and 1980s, and eventually crystallized around the idea of the planner as a manager of the process of arriving at planning judgements, rather than someone who possesses a specialist expertise to make these judgements him- or herself. What is now termed communicative planning theory is the latest version of this view of planning, under which the planner is seen as a kind of facilitator, drawing in other peoples views and skills to the business of making planning judgements. In the section that follows I examine a third signi cant change in post-war planning thought which some writers have identi ed the alleged shift from modernist to postmodernist ways of thinking [6]. For Sandercock, this shift from modern to postmodern planning theory is so fundamental as to lead her to claim that we are . . . living through a period of what Thomas Kuhn has called paradigm shift [7]. The concluding section points out some of the continuities which run through the changes in town planning theory since 1945, and reiterates the thesis that none of the changes in planning thought over the past fty years represents a paradigm shift in anything like the pure, or fundamental, Kuhnian sense.

Two signi cant shifts in the way town planning has been conceived

For almost 20 years following the Second World War, town planning theory and practice was dominated by a conception which saw town planning essentially as an exercise in physical design. In fact, this view of town planning stretched back into history, arguably as far as the European Renaissance, arguably even further back than that. Its long historical lineage is shown by the fact that, for as far back as we can see, what came to be seen and described as town planning was assumed to be most appropriately carried out by architects [8]. Indeed, such was the intimate connection between architecture and town planning that the two were not distinguished throughout most of human history. Thus what we call town planning was seen as architecture, its only distinctiveness being that it was architecture on the larger scale of a whole town, or at least part of a town, as distinct from individual buildings. This conception of town planning as architecture writ large persisted down to the 1960s, as was shown by the fact that most planners in the post-war years were architects by training, or architectplanners [9]. Indeed, because of this, the established professional body for architects in Britain, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), resisted the establishment of a separate professional body for town planning, arguing that town planning as a practice was already covered by themselves [10]. The close link in the postwar years between design and town planning, and hence between architecture and town planning, also explains why at this time aesthetic considerations were regarded as central to

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945


town planning. Like architecture, town planning was viewed as an art, albeit (again like architecture) an applied or practical art in which utilitarian or functional requirements had to be accommodated. That town planning was viewed as design is shown by the fact that a book titled Town Design, by the architect Frederick Gibberd [11], was once regarded without strain as a town planning textbook. Another book which summed up this physicalist design-based conception of town planning, and which arguably was the book most widely recommended to planning students in the English-speaking world through the 1950s and early 1960s, was Lewis Keebles Principles and Practice of Town and Country Planning [12]. Against this background, the bursting onto the scene in the 1960s of the systems and rational process views of planning represented a rupture with a centuries-old tradition, and so might well be viewed as a Kuhnian paradigm shift. This new paradigm was best represented in Britain by Brian McLoughlins book Urban and Regional Planning: A Systems Approach, rst published in 1969 [13]. The contrast between the new systems and rational process views of town planning, and the physical design view which preceded it,

Figure 1. The front covers of (left) Keebles 1969 edition and (right) McLoughlins book.



can be vividly illustrated by comparing the images on the covers of McLoughlins and Keebles books (Fig. 1). Whereas the dust jacket of (the 1969 edition of) Keebles book shows a design for a hypothetical town centre, that on McLoughlins book shows an abstract representation of activities at different locations inter-connected by ows of varying strengths. It is worth noting, in passing, that the systems and rational process views of planning are conceptually distinct, and so really two theories of planning, not one. Thus the systems view was premissed on a view about the object that town planning deals with towns, or regions, or the environment in general, were viewed as systems. By contrast, the rational process view of planning was concerned with the method or process of planning itself, and in particular it advanced an ideal-type conception of planning as a procedure for making instrumentally rational decisions. But setting aside this important distinction, both the systems and rational process views of planning, taken together, represented a radical departure from the then prevailing design-based view of town planning. This shift in planning thought can be summarized under four points. First, an essentially physical or morphological view of towns was to be replaced with a view of towns as systems of interrelated activities in a constant state of ux. Second, whereas town planners had tended to view and judge towns predominantly in physical and aesthetic terms, they were now to examine the town in terms of its social life and economic activities; in Harveys terms, a sociological conception of space was to replace a geographical or morphological conception of space [14]. Third, because the town was now seen as a live functioning thing, this implied a process, rather than an end-state or blueprint approach to town planning and planmaking. Fourth, all these conceptual changes implied, in turn, a change in the kinds of skills, or techniques, which were appropriate to town planning. For if town planners were trying to control and plan complex, dynamic systems, then what seemed to be required were rigorously analytical, scienti c methods of analysis. Overall, the shift in planning thought brought about by the systems and rational process views of planning can be summed up (albeit rather crudely) by saying that, whereas the design-based tradition saw town planning primarily as an art, the systems and rational process theorists suggested that town planning was a science. For, on the one hand, the analysis of environmental systems (regions, cities, etc.) involved systematic empirical and hence scienti c investigation and analysis of interrelationships between activities at different locations. And, on the other hand, the conception of planning as a process of rational decision-making was also commonly equated with being scienti c [15]. An indication of how signi cant this shift was from town planning as an art to town planning as science was that it was experienced as profoundly unsettling by many planners and planning students reared in the design tradition of town planning understandably. Suddenly, within the space of a few years, town planners who had approached their task on the basis of an aesthetic appreciation of urban environments, and who saw themselves as creative, artistic urban designers, were being told by a new generation of planning theorists that this conception of town planning was inappropriate, and that instead they should see themselves as and so become scienti c systems analysts [16].

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945


However, signi cant though this shift in town planning thought undoubtably was, it remains open to question whether it should be likened to a Kuhnian paradigm shift. Although the shift in planning thought described above did have the effect of marginalizing considerations of design and aesthetics in planning theory for about 20 years, in British planning practice (especially in the development control sections of planning authorities) planners still continued to evaluate development proposals partly in terms of their design quality and aesthetic impact. Moreover, following the publication of the well-known Essex Design Guide in 1973 [17], various local authorities sought to place their practice of design control on a clearer theoretical footing by articulating principles of good design for their areas of jurisdiction. In planning practice, therefore, the design-based conception of town planning was not completely superseded by the change in theoretical perspective described above. Admittedly, these observations are about planning practice, not planning theory. But the continuation of the physical design view of planning in planning practice was also theoretically signi cant. For it drew attention to the fact that, at the level of local planning at least, many planners continued to believe that the physical form and aesthetic appearance of new development were important concerns of town planning. And although there were lessons for small area local planning in systems and rational process thinking (e.g. in giving greater consideration to the social and economic effects of development proposals; in approaching local planning as a rational process; etc.), these lessons could be accommodated within an essentially traditional design-based conception of planning. At the level of local planning, therefore, the shift in planning thought described above did not replace the physical design view of planning; it was not a paradigmatic shift in that sense. Furthermore, the continuing relevance of the physical design-based conception of town planning to town planning theory has been shown by the revival of theoretical interest in questions of urban design in the 1980s and 1990s [18]. It was therefore primarily at the broader, more strategic level of planning that the designbased view of planning was supplanted by the changing conception of planning ushered in by the systems and rational process views of planning. In fact, the main shift in planning thought brought about by the systems and rational process views of planning was in clarifying a distinction between strategic and longer-term planning on the one hand, and local and more short-term planning on the other. And it was at the former, strategic level of planning that the altered conception of town planning brought about by systems and rational process thinking was most relevant. In retrospect, then, the shift in town planning thought in the 1960s described above was not a wholescale revolution which completely ousted the incumbent design-based view of town planning; rather, the systems and rational process views of planning added to the design-based view. The shift in planning thought described above was not therefore a revolution in thought comparable to the paradigm shifts in scienti c theory described by Thomas Kuhn.

Although there were marked differences between the traditional conception of town planning as an exercise in physical planning and design, and the conception of town



planning as a rational process of decision-making directed at the analysis and control of urban systems, there was one thing that both these views had in common. Both presumed that the town planner was someone who possessed, or should possess, some specialist knowledge and skill some substantive expertise which the layperson did not possess. It was this which quali ed the planner to plan. And since a central condition of professionalism is the possession of some specialist knowledge or skill, it was this, too, which justi ed any claim town planners might make to constitute a distinct profession. Clearly, views about the content of the specialist skill appropriate to town planning varied according to which of the foregoing conceptions of planning were adopted. Under the traditional design-based view of town planning, the relevant skills were seen to be primarily those of aesthetic appreciation and urban design. Under the systems and rational process views, the skills were those of scienti c analysis and rational decision-making. But still under both conceptions, the town planner was conceived as someone with a specialist knowledge, understanding, and=or skill. However, this whole idea of the planner as someone with some substantive expertise came in its turn to be challenged by an alternative view of town planning. This challenge emerged again in the 1960s, when it came to be openly acknowledged that town planning judgements were at root judgements of value (as distinct from purely scienti c judgements) about the kinds of environments it is desirable to create or conserve [19]. Once this view was taken, it naturally raised the question of whether town planners had any greater specialist ability to make these judgements than the ordinary person in the street. Indeed, peoples experience of much of the planning of the 1960s such as comprehensive housing redevelopment or urban road planning seemed to indicate not. The emergence of the view that town planning was a value-laden, political process therefore raised not so much the question of what the town planners area of specialist expertise should be, but, more fundamentally, the question of whether town planning involved any such expertise at all. From this radical questioning of the town planners role, there developed a curious bifurcation in planning theory which has persisted to this day. On the one hand, some planning theorists have continued to believe that the practice of town planning requires some specialist substantive knowledge or skills be it about urban design, systems analysis, urban regeneration, sustainable development, or whatever [20]. On the other hand, there has developed a tradition of planning thought which openly acknowledges that town planning judgements are value-laden and political. As noted above, one conclusion which might have been drawn from this would be to reject entirely the idea that town planning involves, or requires, some specialist expertise, and indeed, some radical planning theorists have irted with this view [21]. However, most planning theorists who have openly acknowledged the value-laden and political nature of planning have developed an alternative line of thought. This rejects the idea that the town planner is someone who is specially quali ed to make better planning decisions or recommendations because what is better is a matter of value, and (so the argument goes) planners have no superior expertise in making value-judgements over environmental options. However, the view is still taken that the town planner possesses (or should possess) some specialist skill, namely, a skill in managing the process of arriving at planning decisions and facilitating action to realize publicly agreed goals.

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945


Through the 1970s and 1980s, therefore, a tradition of planning theory emerged which viewed the town planners role (and hence his or her professional expertise) as one of identifying and mediating between different interest groups involved in, or affected by, land development. In this way, the town planner was seen as someone who acts as a kind of cypher for other peoples assessments of planning issues, rather than someone who is specially quali ed to assess these issues him- or herself. The town planner was viewed as not so much a technical expert (i.e. as someone who possesses some superior skill to plan towns), but more as a facilitator of other peoples views about how a town, or part of a town, should be planned. To conceive of the town planner like this as a kind of manager of the process of making planning decisions could easily conjure up an image of the planner as a grey-suited chairperson of meetings. But tacked onto this view went a more particular ideological commitment which made it more appealing and inspiring to idealists in the profession, namely, a commitment to ensure that the process of planning was open and democratic, especially to disadvantaged or marginalized groups who tended to be ignored or overridden in decisions about land development. An early version of this theory of town planning, and of the planners role, was Paul Davidoffs advocacy view of planning in the 1960s [22]. The most recent version is the communicative planning theory inspired, particularly, by Habermass theory of communicative action [23]. In this, the skills of inter-personal communication and negotiation are seen as central to a non-coercive, facilitator model of town planning. Indeed, in relation to involving the public in planning, it has even been suggested that the kinds of inter-personal skills needed by the communicative town planner are those of the listener and the counsellor:
Meaningful dialogue learning the language of the client is at the heart of effective counselling. To counsel is not to give advice or push the client down a particular path, but to let the client see himself or herself fully and through this discovery achieve personal growth. As local government of ces look for ways of including citizens in decision-making, they must adopt many counselling skills active listening, non-judgemental acceptance, and the ability to empathise. How can people play a part in the decision-making process unless we enable them to do so [24].

This view of the knowledge and skills relevant to town planning is a far cry from the view that the specialist skill of the town planner resides in being either an urban designer or a systems analyst. In relation to this view of the planner as a manager, communicator, and facilitator of planning decisions, it is also relevant to note here the emergence of a concern with implementation during the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps the rst planning theorist to articulate this concern was John Friedmann at the end of the 1960s, when he presented a critique of the rational process model of planning because it tended to emphasize the task of making decisions over that of taking action [25]. This, together with the seminal work of Pressman and Wildavsky [26], drew attention to the much overlooked fact that, frequently, the most carefully thought through public decisions and policies did not actually result in the necessary action to realize their intentions. This was because, in attending primarily to the business of making decisions about appropriate policies and plans, insuf cient attention was given to the problems of how these policies and plans might get implented. A concern



with implementation with what John Friedmann termed action planning [27] thus became a central preoccupation of some planning theorists in the 1970s and 1980s [28]. Although this concern with implementation had rather different roots from the view of planning as a political activity described above, it issued in much the same conception of planning and the skills appropriate for it. For the general conclusion of the implementation theory of the 1970s and 1980s was that, to be an effective implementer of public policies and plans, planners needed to become effective at networking, communicating and negotiating with other agents involved in the development process. In short, theoretical re ection on the problem of implementation led also to a view of the planner as one who should be a capable manager, networker and communicator. Nowadays, many planners do describe themselves as managers and facilitators of the process of planning rather than as people with a special expertise in planning towns. So the shift in town planning thought described here has undoubtably been signi cant. Hence Judith Inness [29] description of communicative action and interactive practice as the new paradigm of planning theory. However, once again a word of caution is in order before it is too readily assumed that this change in planning thought represents a Kuhnian paradigm shift. For it is possible to imagine some kind of rapprochement between the two views described here. Thus one could adopt a view of the town planner as one whose role is primarily that of a communicator and negotiator, but where, in communicating and negotiating with others, the planner also brings to bear some specialist knowledge which, for example, would enable him or her to point out the likely consequences of development proposals on the form and functioning of a town. Such a model of the town planner would be akin to that of, say, civil servants who are experts in economic matters, and who impart their specialist economic understanding to those they advise who make decisions about economic policy. To be effective as an adviser, such a town planner would have to be skilled in communicating and negotiating with others, but he or she would also have to possess some specialist knowledge to bring to the communicating table to assist others in arriving at planning decisions [30]. The alternative substantive and procedural conceptions of town planning described in this section are therefore not as fundamentally at odds, or incommensurable, as the paradigm shifts in the history of science described by Thomas Kuhn.

Modernist and postmodernist planning theory: a shift in normative planning thought According to some commentators [31], since about the late 1960s there has been a signi cant shift in Western thought and culture from modernism to postmodernism, and some view this as so fundamental as to constitute a shift in world view, or a paradigm shift [32]. This alleged paradigm shift has a special bearing on town planning, because modern architecture and town planning have jointly provided one of the main sites where the shift from modernism to postmodernism is supposed to have taken place. Indeed, according to Charles Jencks [33], the death-knell of modernism was sounded in July 1972, when the vandalized PruittIgoe high-rise housing estate in St Louis (USA) which had earlier won an award as an exemplar of modern architecture and town planning was deemed uninhabitable and dynamited by the local city authority.

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945


At one level, postmodernism can be viewed as a movement opposed to the styles of art and design associated with the modern movement. Thus in architecture, postmodernists rebelled against the aesthetic minimalism and anonymity of the plain geometrical buildings (and comprehensive planning schemes) of the modern movement, and against the modernist dogma of functionalism which had legitimized this stripped-down architecture. Postmodern architects therefore sought to bring back style to contemporary buildings to enrich their aesthetic content and give them meaning. Thus in what is arguably the rst text of postmodern architecture, Robert Venturi famously counterposed his preference for a stylistically more complex architecture over plain functional modernism:
I like complexity and contradiction in architecture . . . . Architects can no longer afford to be intimidated by the puritanically moral language of orthodox Modern architecture. I like elements which are hybrid rather than pure, compromising rather than clean, distorted rather than straightforward, ambiguous rather than articulated, . . . inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity . . . I am for richness of meaning rather than clarity of meaning . . . [34]

In relation to town planning, Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander [35] expressed a similar preference for complexity in the city, in opposition to the simpli ed order which modern town planning theorists like Ebenezer Howard and Le Corbusier had advocated. Jacobs [36] berated the simple-mindedness of single use zoning and comprehensive redevelopment in urban areas, both of which showed little understanding of, or regard for, the delicate social and economic fabric and vitality of existing city areas. Instead, she advocated mixing land uses, and leaving many so-called slum areas alone to unslum themselves. Alexander [37] similarly criticized modern town planning for seeking to impose a simpli ed tree-like structure on urban areas (e.g. by planning for self-contained neighbourhoods), suggesting that successful cities contained within them complex and subtle semi-lattice patterns of interrelationships. These architectural and planning ideas certainly represented a departure from the prevailing modernist orthodoxy. But, according to some accounts, the shift from modernism to postmodernism goes deeper than just a preference for greater complexity in architecture and town planning. For, it is said, underpinning and driving the modern movement in architecture and town planning (and other developments in modern western culture) has been a more fundamental intellectual orientation which has its roots in the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. This Enlightenment world view has been characterized as an optimistic belief in human progress based on analytical reason and scienti c understanding. Quite apart from its machine aesthetic, modern town planning thought and practice has been seen as expressing this more general Enlightenment world view or paradigm, and correspondingly, postmodern planning theory is seen by some as representing a break with this intellectual tradition. Such a view is advanced, for example, by Leonie Sandercock [38]. She emphasizes two important contrasts, in particular, between the modernist paradigm of town planning which she rejects and a postmodern paradigm which she endorses: one concerning the epistemological basis of planning, and the other concerning the values or normative theory of planning [39]. On the rst, Sandercock suggests that modernist planning has been concerned with making public=political decisions more rational, in the sense, especially, of



relying on an instrumental rationality that carefully considers and evaluates options and alternatives [40]. As an adjunct to this, modernist planning has relied largely on a mastery of theory and methods in the social sciences, so that planning knowledge and expertise is grounded in positive science, with its propensity for quantitative modelling and analysis. Second, this rationalist-cum-scienti c (my expression) model of planning is also equated with a top-down (Sandercocks expression) normative model of planned action, in which the state is seen as possessing progressive, reformist tendencies. Accordingly, the state is vested with the authority to undertake town planning. Associated with this, modernist planning has sought to be comprehensive [41], and this is displayed, for example, in the idea that planning should aim to realize what is in the overall public interest [42]. Against each of these (epistemological and normative) features of modernist planning, Sandercock counterposes postmodern alternatives. First, in contrast to the rationalist model of planning theory Sandercock urges that whilst Meansends rationality may still be a useful concept . . . we also need greater and more explicit reliance on practical wisdom [43]. In Sandercocks submission, such practical wisdom derives from more varied kinds of knowledge and experience than just scienti c knowledge; it can also include experiential, grounded, contextual, intuitive knowledges, which are manifested through speech, songs, stories, and various visual forms. Planners should therefore learn to access these other ways of knowing [44]. Second, against the top-down state-directed model of planning, Sandercock urges a move to community-based planning, from the ground up, geared to community empowerment [45]. Part of this involves a recognition that planning is no longer exclusively concerned with comprehensive, integrated, and coordinated action, . . . but more with negotiated, political and focused planning. This in turn makes it less document oriented and more people-centred [46]. Part of it also involves an acknowledgement that modern cities are increasingly inhabited by different ethnic and other social groups, with a diversity of cultures and interests. A postmodern community-based planning, which is sensitive to cultural differences, would therefore dispense with the idea of an overarching public interest because this tends to exclude difference [47]. Instead, planning in this multicultural area requires a new kind of multicultural literacy [48]. The epistemological critique of modernism for its reliance on rationality and science has been central to some versions of postmodernism [49]. However, many theorists have questioned whether the postmodern critique is, or can be made, coherent in its own terms. Consider, for example, the following statement of postmodern epistemology by Michael Dear:
Postmodernisms principal target has been the rationality of the modern movement, especially its foundational character, its search for universal truth . . . . The postmodern position is that all metanarratives are suspect; that the authority claimed by any single explanation is ill-founded, and hence should be resisted. In essence, postmodernists assert that the relative merit of one meta-narrative over another is ultimately undecideable; and by extension, that any such attempts to forge intellectual consensus should be resisted [50].

Taken at face value (i.e. in terms of what it actually says), this statement implies a rejection of rational discourse altogether. For if postmodernists believe, as Dear here suggests, that there are literally no criteria against which we can judge the relative merits of different theoretical positions, then it would follow that there can be no reasoned debate

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945


about different theories at all. However, apart from the fact that such a position is intellectually hopeless (in the literal sense that there would be no point in hoping for greater enlightenment through rational discourse with others), it also seems to be self-defeating. For if there are no rational criteria against which to judge the truth of a proposition, then there are no reasonable grounds for accepting as true Dears postmodern proposition that the relative merit of one meta-narrative over another is ultimately undecidable. As Anthony Giddens [51] has written: Were anyone to hold such a view (and indeed if it is not inchoate in the rst place), they could scarcely write a book about it. The only possibility would be to repudiate intellectual activity altogether . . . The idea, then, that there are no criteria of rationality which we should aspire towards in engaging in theoretical work, or in assessing the relative merits of competing theories, is therefore dismissed by Giddens as unworthy of serious intellectual consideration [52]. If, as these arguments suggest, the postmodern epistemological critique of modernist rationality and science is itself incoherent, then the idea that postmodernism represents a paradigmatic break with Enlightenment reason turns out to be empty. This is not to deny Sandercocks suggestion that there may be different ways of knowing which can supplement, ll out, or otherwise complement the understandings gained by reason and science. Certainly in relation to making practical planning judgements, the experience and knowledge of local communities, even if not strictly scienti c, must be relevant to those judgements. However, if this is what the postmodern epistemological position comes down to, then for all its fruitfulness it does not represent an alternative to modernist Enlightenment epistemology, but rather a supplement to it. What, then, of the alternative values or normative theory which postmodernists advance in opposition to the values of modernism? Do these represent a paradigm shift in normative thinking? Broadly, postmodernists argue that the world and our experience of it is far more complex and subtle than has typically been realized in the modern age. In relation to cities and the environment, postmodernists claim that peoples experience of places, and from this the qualities of places, are much more diverse and open than was implicit in many modernist schemes for improving the city and especially in the bombastic simplicities of modernist architectural schemes for the ideal future city, such as Le Corbusiers radiant city. In place of the modernist architects and planners emphasis on simplicity, order, uniformity and tidiness, postmodernists typically celebrate complexity, diversity, difference, and pluralism [53]. This echoes Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexanders celebration of urban complexity and diversity more than thirty years ago. Postmodernists therefore argue that there can be no one type of environment which is ideal for everyone, no singular conception of environmental quality. Thus whilst some may continue to hold as a planning ideal Howards vision of garden cities [54], others will prefer the buzz and excitement of what Elizabeth Wilson [55] calls the teeming metropolis. Hence, too, Sandercocks view that the ideal postmodern city is a multicultural city. This postmodern emphasis on diversity, difference, pluralism and multiculturalism chimes with the political ideals of liberalism. For liberals also celebrate the plural society in which individuals have the opportunity to determine and realize themselves in different ways through the exercise of free choice [56]. From this point of view, the normative position of postmodernism might seem to accord with a liberal, market-sensitive system of planning in



contrast to the statism of socialist and social democratic forms of planning (which have been associated with modernism). But do these postmodern values amount to a paradigmatic break with the values of socalled modernist planning? Two points can be made to dispute this. First, in relation to the general value stance of diversity and pluralism espoused by postmodernists, this can be taken to an extreme where any difference is accepted or permitted; in other words, a position of complete moral and political relativism. And such an extreme ethical relativism is open to criticisms similar to those raised earlier against postmodern epistemological relativism. To be sure, we may endorse a more complex, variegated and multicultural conception of environmental quality, but this need not exclude a commitment to some overarching even universal normative principles of planning. For example, shouldnt town planning, wherever it is practised, do what it can to help bring about economically and environmentally sustainable development, development which is not socially divisive, and development which is experienced as an aesthetic delight? In fact, for all her celebration of difference and multiculturalism, even Sandercock acknowledges that her ideal cosmopolis would require some overarching normative principles, such as some overall principles of social justice, and a democratic polity which fosters dialogue and negotiation as the habit of political participation [57]. Second, with respect to the liberal inclinations of postmodernism, whilst the kind of centralized statist planning of Soviet-style socialism and even post-war social democracy in the West may have been discredited, the idea that a liberal, market-supportive style of planning produces better environmental outcomes has by no means been universally accepted. Sandercock herself argues for a bottom-up community-based style of planning as being the required antidote to top-down statism. Yet even she insists that this
is not to argue for the rejection of state-directed planning. There are transformative and oppressive possibilities in state planning, just as there are in community-based planning. Victories at the community level almost always need to be consolidated in some way through the state, through legislation and=or through the allocation of resources [58].

The idea, then, that either a kind of postmodern liberalism or some version of community planning constitute a paradigmatic break with social democratic politics is, to say the least, premature (consider, in this regard, Giddenss recent argument for a renewal of social democracy [59]).

Conclusion: change and continuity in town planning thought Unquestionably, there have been signi cant changes in town planning thought since the end of the Second World War, and (for all the talk of the gulf between planning theory and practice), these changes have affected planning practice. Thus town planners now operate with a very different conception of town planning, and bring to it quite different skills, from the architectplanners of fty years ago. The idea, for example, of town planning as an exercise in managing the process of arriving at planning decisions and negotiating agreements for action, and hence of the town planner as someone who is primarily a communicator and a facilitator, would not really have occurred to early British post-war

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945


planners like Thomas Sharp, Frederick Gibberd or Lewis Keeble. Contrariwise, the idea that the prime task of town planners is to undertake surveys of the physical and aesthetic characteristics of towns, and then sit in front of drawing boards drawing up master plans, would strike most present-day planners as hopelessly limited, naive, and outmoded. Similarly, the modernist idea that better cities can be created by drastic surgery and comprehensive development has long been discredited. These are signi cant changes in peoples conception of the activity of town and country planning, and the values which should inform it. And there is no harm in describing these changes as paradigm shifts, so long as we appreciate that we are employing this term in a fairly loose or weak sense. However, in anything like the strong sense of the term as used by Thomas Kuhn to describe revolutionary changes in thought in the history of science, it is doubtful whether any of the changes in town planning thought since 1945 are appropriately described as paradigm shifts. For in the strong sense of the term, a paradigm shift is marked by a fundamental change in world view a kind of Gestalt switch in peoples whole conceptual scheme. And whilst there have been signi cant discontinuities in planning thought since 1945, there have also been continuities across these changes. For example, whilst, on the face of it, the shift from the physical design view of town planning to the systems and rational process views of planning might look like a change of world view (and hence a Kuhnian paradigm shift), the systems and rational process views of planning did not completely supersede the urban design conception of town planning. Thus, at least at the local level of small area or district planning and the control of development, good urban design (and design control) is still regarded as central to good town planning; indeed, a concern with urban design within town planning has experienced something of a revival since the mid-1980s. Arguably, a more likely candidate for a Kuhnian paradigm shift has been the shift from a view of the town planner as an expert to the planner as a manager and facilitator the shift, in other words, away from a view of the planner as the supplier of answers (in the form of master plans) to that of the planner as someone skilled at eliciting other peoples answers to urban problems and somehow mediating between these. But even this view of town planning as a species of communicative action is compatible with the view that town planners should possess at least some area of expertise, for example about the likely effects of proposed changes to urban environments. Similarly, the postmodern emphasis on complexity, difference and relative values is not completely incompatible with a commitment to some overarching, universal principles of environmental quality, still less with a reliance on (sophisticated) reason and scienti c understanding. Looking back over the changes in town planning theory since the end of the Second World War, some planning theorists have suggested that planning theory has fragmented into a plurality of diverse and even incompatible theoretical positions or paradigms [60]. However, this article has expressed scepticism with this idea. Although there have been signi cant shifts in planning thought since 1945, there have also been signi cant continuities. Indeed, the shifts in town planning thought over this period can be regarded as developmental rather than as ruptures between incompatible paradigms of planning. In other words, the changes to town planning theory described here can equally well be viewed as lling out, and thereby enriching, the rather primitive conception of planning which prevailed in the immediate post-war years. On this account, the story of town



planning theory since 1945 has been one of developing sophistication as we have learnt more about the greater complexity of urban environments and the diverse values of different communities.

Notes and references

1. For example, T.G. Galloway and R.G. Mahayni, Planning theory in retrospect: the process of paradigm change. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 43, 1 (1977) 6271. J. Innes, Planning theorys emerging paradigm: communicative action and interactive practice. Journal of Planning Education and Research 14, 3 (1995) 1839. L. Sandercock, Towards Cosmopolis: planning for multicultural cities. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1998. 2. T. Kuhn, The Structure of Scienti c Revolutions (2nd edition). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970. 3. Ibid., chapter 7. 4. In this regard we should note that Kuhn himself used the concept of a paradigm in different senses, some more fundamental than others (see Kuhns 1969 postscript to his original essay, ibid., pp. 17491). 5. For example, we could describe the shift in moral thinking that was ushered in by the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century in which all individual human beings came to be viewed as morally signi cant and therefore as possessing certain human rights as a fundamental change, or paradigm shift, in ethical thought. And, just as in science, an ethical paradigm tends to endure for a long time; it constitutes an ethical world view, and is built into the ethical consciousness of people reared in a culture where that world-view prevails. Shifts in such ethical views are therefore as revolutionary (and psychologically unsettling) as are paradigm shifts in science. 6. See, for example, M. Dear, Postmodernism and planning. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 4 (1986) 36784. B. Goodchild, Planning and the modern=postmodern debate. Town Planning Review 61, 2 (1990) 11937. L. Sandercock, op. cit. [1]. 7. L. Sandercock, ibid., p. 2. 8. Of course, there is a question here about when architecture was rst acknowledged as a distinct practice. For if one goes back to the Renaissance, people who practised or contributed to architecture and urban design were often not just architects in the modern sense. Often they were artists of a more general sort, and architecture was one of the things they practised. For example, both Bernini and Michelangelo were involved in the design of (respectively) the collonaded approach to, and the dome of, St Peters in Rome, but both were more famous in their time for their work in sculpture and painting. Similarly, Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of St Pauls Cathedral in London, was an astronomer by training. 9. Two other important recruiting groups for town planning during the post-war years were civil engineers and surveyors. During the period 194656, 45% of the Associate Members of the British Town Planning Institute were architects, 14% engineers and 9% surveyors. Only 9% held some other rst degree quali cation such as geography, and 22% were direct entry planners ( gures from G.F. Cherry, The Evolution of British Town Planning. London, Leonard Hill Books, 1974, p. 210. 10. Ibid., chapters 6 and 7. 11. F. Gibberd, Town Design. London: The Architectural Press, 1953. 12. L.B. Keeble, Principles and Practice of Town and Country Planning (4th edition). London: The Estates Gazette, 1969. Two other standard texts of this time which advanced essentially the same

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945


13. 14. 15.


17. 18.




design-based view of town planning were P. Abercrombie, Town and Country Planning (3rd edition). London: Oxford University Press, 1959 and T. Sharp, Town Planning. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1940. J.B. McLoughlin, Urban and Regional Planning: a systems approach. London: Faber and Faber, 1969. D. Harvey, Social Justice and the City. London: Edward Arnold, 1973, chapter 1. This equation between rationality and science was, in fact, crude, for it implied that art was somehow non-rational in comparison with science because, for example, it involved the imagination, creativity, the expression of feelings, etc., rather than rigorous empirical investigation of objective facts. But this is misleading. For artistic activity involves rational analysis and, correspondingly, original scienti c work involves creativity and imagination as twentieth century theoretical physics vividly illustrates. This shift from art to science also implied that town planners should henceforth acquire the necessary mathematical techniques to analyse complex urban systems. The present author experienced this transition himself as a planning student in the mid-1960s. When I arrived on my (two-year postgraduate) town planning course, I was required to purchase a drawing board, Tsquare, drawing pens and pencils, etc., in readiness for doing design projects in studios, just like an architect. The rst project I and my fellow students were required to undertake was a design project a residential layout. And so it went on. The academic aspects of the curriculum mirrored this, with courses on the history of architecture and urban design. During our rst year we heard about the new idea of systems planning through two of Brian McLoughlins early articles on the subject, and in our second year a visiting lecturer from the School of Regional Science at the University of Pennsylvania was invited to lecture us on some of the new techniques associated with the systems view of planning. Our visitor began his rst lecture by saying: I take it we are all agreed that town planning is about optimising systems. No-one demurred. From this premise our guest lecturer breezily proceeded to teach us some techniques for analysing and optimizing systems, concentrating on linear programming. Because we were generally so innumerate, he had to teach us some basic algebra rst. We sat through two terms of this, partly excited by these radically new ideas (for we were young), but also, if the truth were told, utterly bemused and stunned. Essex County Council Planning Department, A Design Guide for Residential Areas. Chelmsford: Essex County Council, 1973. See, for example, J. Punter, Aesthetics in planning, in H. Thomas (ed) Values and Planning. Aldershot: Avebury, 1994, chapter 3, pp. 38 67. J. Punter and M. Carmona, The Design Dimension of Planning: theory, content and best practice for design policies. London: E & FN Spon, 1997. See, for example, N.E. Long, Planning and Politics in Urban Development. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 25, 6 (1959) 1679. P. Davidoff and T.A. Reiner, A choice theory of planning. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 28 (1962) 10315, reprinted in A. Faludi (ed.) A Reader in Planning Theory. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1973, pp. 1139. Amongst those who take this view are those who continue to take a highly technicalist view of the skills needed for planning, reminiscent, in fact, of the technicism of the early systems planning theorists. This tradition persists, for example, in many of the articles which appear in the journal Planning and Environment B (Planning and Design). Many of these articles are highly technical (even esoteric) investigations of planning techniques. In fact, they sometimes read as if they were written in the early 1960s, and as if the political upheavals about town planning in the 1960s had never happened. For example, R. Goodman, After the Planners. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972. B. Evans, Experts and Environmental Planning. Aldershot: Avebury, 1995. And not just radical-Left


planning theorists. In addition to these two references, one could add some of the literature of the neo-liberal New Right such as R. Jones, Town and Country Chaos: a critical analysis of Britains planning system. London: The Adam Smith Institute, 1982 which argued that public sector town planning did not achieve better outcomes than the free play of market forces. From this point of view, the so-called expertise of town planners was really no expertise at all. P. Davidoff, Advocacy and pluralism in planning. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 31, 4 (1965) 54455. See, for example, J. Forester, Planning in the Face of Power. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. P. Healey, Planning through debate: the communicative turn in planning theory. Town Planning Review 63, 2 (1992) 14362. F. Fischer and J. Forester, (eds) The Argumentative Turn in Policy Analysis and Planning. London: UCL Press, 1993. T. Sager, Communicative Planning Theory. Aldershot: Avebury, 1993. P. Healey and R. Gilroy, Towards a people-sensitive planning. Planning Practice and Research 5, 2 (1990) 21 9, p. 22. J. Friedmann, Notes on societal action. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35 (1969) 31118. Although, arguably, Charles Lindbloms theory of disjointed incremetalism which predated Friedmanns action planning theory by a decade was prompted by a similar concern with how action actually occurred in reality. See C.E. Lindblom, The science of muddling through. Public Administration Review 19 (1959) 79 88. Reprinted in A. Faludi, op. cit. [19], pp. 15169. See also A. Faludi, Planning Theory. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1973. pp. 15070. J.L. Pressman and A. Wildavsky, Implementation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973. J. Friedmann, op. cit. [25], p. 312. See, for example, S. Barrett and C. Fudge (eds) Policy and Action: essays on the implementation of public policy. London: Methuen, 1981. J. Innes, op. cit. [1]. It would also be compatible with this model of planning for different town planners to specialize in different areas of knowledge and=or skill relevant to different aspects of town planning, e.g. economic development; design and aesthetics; mineral extraction; environmentally sustainable development. For example, J-F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 (translation by G. Bennington and B. Massumi). F. Jameson, Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism. New Left Review 146 (1984) 53 92. D. Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: an enquiry into the origins of cultural change. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989. L. Sandercock, op. cit. [1]. C. Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. London: Academy Editions, 1991, p. 23. R. Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (2nd edition). New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1977, p. 16. J. Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961. C. Alexander, A city is not a tree. Architectural Forum 122, 1 (1965). Reprinted in R.T. LeGates and F. Stout, (eds) The City Reader. London: Routledge, 1996, pp. 11831. J. Jacobs, ibid., chapter 15. C. Alexander, op. cit. [35]. L. Sandercock, op. cit. [1]. In fact, Sandercock sets down ve basic beliefs or assumptions which are characteristic of modernist planning theory and practice, and correspondingly, ve alternative principles of postmodern planning (L. Sandercock, op. cit. [1], chapter 1, pp. 27 and 30 respectively). My reduction of these to two main contrasting principles is my own interpretative summary of her account.

22. 23.

24. 25.

26. 27. 28. 29. 30.


32. 33. 34. 35.

36. 37. 38. 39.

Anglo-American town planning theory since 1945

40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50.


51. 52.

53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60.

Ibid., chapter 1, p. 27. Ibid., p. 27. Ibid., p. 27. Ibid., p. 30. Ibid., p. 30. Ibid., p. 30. Ibid., p. 30. Ibid., p. 30. Ibid., p. 30. For example, R. Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. M. Dear, Prolegomena to a postmodern urbanism, in P. Healey, S. Cameron, S. Graham and A. Madani-Pour, (eds) Managing Cities: the new urban context. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1995, Part 1, chapter 1, p. 28. A. Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity. Oxford: Polity Press, 1990, p. 47. Ibid., p. 46. This discussion also prompts the further question as to whether postmodernists are themselves consistent in adhering to the epistemological relativism they espouse. Certainly, some writers who advance postmodern epistemological relativism are not consistent in adhering to it. Thus Michael Dear, within a page of the statement quoted, moves on to write about what the city of Los Angeles is really like on the assumption, presumably, that there are truths about the place which can be discovered. cf. I. Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. P. Hall and C. Ward, Sociable Cities: The Legacy of Ebenezer Howard. Chichester: John Wiley and Sons, 1998. E. Wilson, The Sphinx in the City. London: Virago, 1991, p. 101. See, for example, R. Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia. Oxford: Blackwell, 1974, chapter 10. L. Sandercock, op. cit. [1], p. 199. Ibid., pp. 205 6. A. Giddens, The Third Way: the renewal of social democracy. Oxford: Polity Press, 1998. For example, P. Healey, G. McDougall and M.J. Thomas, Theoretical debates in planning: towards a coherent dialogue, in P. Healey, G. McDougall and M.J. Thomas (eds) Planning Theory: prospects for the 1980s. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1982, p. 5.