Planning and self-organizing citizens: understanding the position of planners and knowledge in times of new urbanisms.

Abstracts are invited for the RC21 annual congress, to be held in Urbino, Italy, in August 2015.

Organizers: Federico Savini (University of Amsterdam, NL); Mike Raco (University College London, UK)

“The architect is no more miracle-worker than the sociologist. Neither can create social relations […] Only social life (praxis) in its global capacity possesses such powers.”

STREAM C – Cities and urban planning

In this way Henri Lefebvre criticized the illusion that planning, among others spatial disciplines, could accurately predict and shape social relationships in space. The modernist myth of technocratic planning has undergone sustained criticism in recent decades. Contemporary spatial policy making appears to have embraced the idea that urban spaces are complex, and that it is impossible to possess adequate knowledge to predict and shape a unitary idea of the future. The role of planners has been more associated with a place-based mobilization of and mediation between different perspectives on cities.

The on-going economic crisis and decades of welfare restructuring has been predicated on a new vision for planning in which its position in society is to be redefined and reimagined. New proposals often resonate with a neoliberal individualism, pointing at creative self-organization of citizens or for a ‘big society’. There are calls for devolution and a new localism in planning delivery. Yet, the ideal of the self-organized city entails risks of social exclusion and underestimates some of the broader structural changes that are happening to the planning profession. Critics highlight the depoliticized nature of collaboration and ‘inclusive’ forms of consensus building in urban politics. Others points at the market driven search for delivery-focused urban development. Planners turn respectively into either professional decision-making organizers or private sector consultants for deal making. Others highlight the risks of planning intended as purely regulatory task, lacking the capacity to grasp urgent societal problems and dynamics.

In this session we address changing discourses on the role of planning within new forms of urbanism, and their implications for the development of cites. We are particularly interested in critical reflections on the thinking and practices that shape the behavior of contemporary planners, defined in a broad sense, and on the experimental ways to mobilize and use ‘knowledge’. This should be framed within discussion of new forms of neoliberalism, welfare restructuring and rescaling of state competences in planning.

Papers for this session could address:

  • The role of technical knowledge in the planning process within urban development. What types of new subjects are emerging in the business of city making and according to which logics they operate? What type of new resources do they mobilize?
  • Emerging decision making experiments in neighborhoods, area developments, or broader strategic urban policies. Do citizens organize in a different ways and how does planning try to address new organization dynamics? How discourses on crisis-recovery affect these practices?
  • The implications for new discourses on welfarism, self-organization, deregulation and localism in the practice of urban planning. How are ideals of new localism and new urbanisms now incorporated into broader planning frameworks and with what impacts on urban development? What are the social and spatial implications of the new ‘ideals’ of cities such as smart urbanism, slow and open-source urbanism or do-it-yourself urbanism?



Federico Savini, Assistant Professor, University of Amsterdam

Dep. of Geography, Planning and International development studies.

Center for Urban Studies.

Valckenierstraat 59, 1018XV Amsterdam

Kamer B 4.15