Journals

Viewpoint: Thoughts on internationalism and planning

Town Planning Review 89.4 features ‘Viewpoint: Thoughts on internationalism and planning’ by Ben Davy. In Town Planning Review 90.1, the first issue of 2019, Klaus Kunzmann contributed his paper ‘Viewpoint: Why not Italian? Differences matter! A comment on Ben Davy’s Viewpoint in TPR on ‘Thoughts on internationalism and planning’. Below, Ben Davy describes his paper and shares his thoughts on the subject.

Ben Davy’s paper in 89.4 will be free to read for a limited time here.

When I joined the team of Town Planning Review’s co-editors in November 2017, I had just come back from a UN Climate Change Conference where I had experienced an awkward, even embarrassing situation that made me think hard about the importance of internationalism (if you want to know more about this situation, please check my Viewpoint here). Despite my reflection, I have not been able to present a clear view on internationalism and planning. At least, Professor Klaus R. Kunzmann, my esteemed colleague from the University of Dortmund, thinks that my thoughts on internationalism and planning are »opaque«. He also assumes that differences do not matter to me, and that Mozart’s Zauberflöte best be performed in Italian. Since I prefer to listen to Emanuel Schikaneder’s original libretto (in German), I better hold my tongue on the Magic Flute.

So, what’s my view on internationalism and why it is important to planners? As I am writing this blog entry, the international community – or, at least, those parts of the international community that are still committed to internationalism – celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a textbook example of internationalism. The Universal Declaration was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1948, and 70 years later, global human rights have failed many tests in the real world which is still filled with injustice, violence, humiliation, and terror. Global human rights, however, have also sharpened our perception of territorial sovereignty (as limited) and the rights of every woman, man, or child against national governments (as augmented). Both achievements are today called into question by the Universal Declaration of Human Hate constantly streamed on Twitter, Facebook, and other anti-social media. In my Viewpoint, I am emphasizing the need to learn about and understand others because learning and understanding are entrenched elements of internationalism. I am happy that Professor Kunzmann and I seem to agree on this point because he announces that »[t]o this end Ben Davy is absolutely right.«

In my Viewpoint, I take the role of internationalism as an instrument of building world peace even a bit further—by taking it back several centuries. Internationalism is a child of neither the internet nor YouTube. Roman law was codified in the 6th century A.D. with a clear conception of ius gentium, the law of all peoples. Although legal internationalism always also has been an instrument of hegemony, international law can be considered, as Martti Koskenniemi thinks, the »gentle civilizer of nations«. On a much smaller scale, but very dear to me, planning can play a similar role which is not opaque, but much needed. Planning can be the »gentle civilizer« of land users worldwide. Although land use planning is always sub-national, planners benefit from an international exchange with other planners. In fact, many associations and networks already exist and trade knowledge and ideas between planners, who are curious about what goes on in other countries and other planning systems. Among these associations are the Association of African Planning Schools (AAPS; www.africanplanningschools.org.za), the Asian Planning School Association (APSA; http://apsaweb.org/), the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP; www.acsp.org), the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP; www.aesop-planning.eu) and other members of the Global Planning Education Association Network (GPEAN). Not in all, but in many discussions within these networks, English is the working language of choice. Italian or German are not. Appreciating this fact is not evidence of ignoring differences, it merely acknowledges that most congress hosts cannot afford to hire translators.

 

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Journals

Town Planning Review 90.1 Featured Article

The editors of Town Planning Review have selected “Why not Italian? Differences matter! A comment on Ben Davy’s Viewpoint in TPR on ‘Thoughts on internationalism and planning’” by Klaus R. Kunzmann as the Featured Article for 90.1.

The paper will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance the author stated the following:

In his very personal essay Ben Davy, the acting president of AESOP, the Association of European Planning Schools, argues that open physical, mental and cultural borders should certainly be on the agenda of the planning community. His viewpoints on internationalisation and planning, however, remain opaque. What is internationalism in planning? Writing in English, or Globish respectively in “Audacity English” as Ben Davy calls it, certainly is not, though it may help to communicate with planners in other countries when travelling around to see other places and learn from other experiences. He is absolutely right, when he writes “internationalisation never must be an excuse for cultural appropriation, intellectual colonialism”.

In times of globalisation internationalism is a virtue of enlightened citizens (including planners) who are open and curious to learn from other cultures, from people who believe in other gods, and who have still memories of their lands of origin they had left permanently or temporally for whatever reason. Most internationally minded planners outside the Anglo-American world of planning are more international than those within the Anglo-American world, who, as a rule, pick-up developments outside only, once they are written in English.

Though one should not forget that planners, who are doing the hard work of practical planning work in their home countries, who are daily communicating with citizens, developers, politicians and powerful local stakeholders of urban development, do it in their local language. And these are 99% of the planning community. They can be internationally minded, but their assignment is to address local challenges to find solutions for local problems to ultimately to contribute to improving quality of life in the place, for which they are responsible.

In times of globalization the gap between theory and practice in planning is widening. Language that bridges academia, divides planning theory from planning practice. Planners who are bridge-builders between theory and practice are a scarce species. and those who are addressing both international and local planning communities in two languages are even more so.

While internationally recognized planning theory tends to distance itself from local practice, local practitioners are being cocooned in legislative and administrative rationales, often dominated by local party politics. Here a more international view on planning can certainly help. Young academic planners, locked in the treadmill of career promotion may not bother, whether their thoughts on planning are read by local and regional planning professionals. Their ambition is rather to earn international credits to further advance their academic careers.

Planners have to be educated to cope with the obvious gap between international theory and local practice. Basing planning education on theoretical global curricula, as it has been frequently suggested by prominent writers may make sense for post-post-doc degrees , though this is valid only for a small minority of planners. When preparing the other 99 percent planners in a country or region, it may raise the individual awareness but not really qualify for doing the job, neither in India, Italy or Afghanistan.

More bridge-builders are needed to bridge the gap between global and local as well as the gap between theory and practice in planning.. Regrettably the number of such bridge-builders is too small. English will certainly remain the only way of easy communication in business and financial worlds, and in the world of sciences, as Latin has been more than 500 years ago. In the not too distant future daily improving digital translation, however, may become a threat to English as a lingua franca. Internationalism in planning is learning from difference.

Francois Julien, the French philosopher, has reminded us that the future world is a world of in-between languages, of translations not of Globish, the globalized English.

 

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Journals

Town Planning Review 89.5 Featured Article

The editors of Town Planning Review have selected ‘Mass Transit Railway, transit-oriented development and spatial justice: the competition for prime residential locations in Hong Kong since the 1980s‘ by Sylvia Y. He, Sui Tao, Yuting Hou and Wenhua Jiang as the Featured Article for the latest issue.

It will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, Sylvia Y. He, Sui Tao, Yuting Hou and Wenhua Jiang stated the following:

Mass Transit Railway, transit-oriented development and spatial justice: the competition for prime residential locations in Hong Kong since the 1980s

In our paper, we examine the issues of spatial justice and right to the city in a particular urban development model in Hong Kong, a city known for it public transport system – particularly the Mass Transit Railway (MTR).

During a visit to the City Gallery in Hong Kong, an officer in the Planning Department of Hong Kong proudly stated that a reasonable amount of land near the MTR has always been reserved for public housing estate development, which will likely to benefit the low-income groups. On the other hand, some local residents have been complaining that the prime land around MTR stations has become less and less affordable as they are increasingly developed by private developers. These two conflicting views from different stakeholders prompted us to wonder whether transit-oriented development (TOD) is as euphoric as it may sound. Hence we are intrigued to investigate three related questions in this essay:
– Are Hong Kong’s public housing estates located in less desirable locations in relation to the MTR network?
– What is the impact of MTR network on accessibility over time?
– Whether the locations of private and public housing estates have changed as a result of MTR network expansion?

The situation of housing market in Hong Kong offers an ideal laboratory to examine the residential location choice of two distinctive income groups. Like in many other cities, the public housing estates are mainly reserved for the low income groups. In contrast to many cities, about 47% of the population live in public housing in Hong Kong compared to 51% in private housing, making these two types of housing estates a representative analysis unit to trace the residential location of the low-income group and the non-low-income group.

Based on the findings, our study sheds some light on the current urban development practice in Hong Kong: the low-income group is facing the challenge of being priced out from the locations with easier access to public transport. This study can potentially serve as a reference for other cities that are or aim to become TOD cities.

Journals

Town Planning Review 89.4 Featured Article

The editors of TPR have selected ‘Congested cities vs. sprawl makes you fat: unpacking the health effects of planning density’ by Ann Forsyth as the Featured Article for the latest issue.

It will be free to access for a limited time here

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

In recent years many planners have proposed increasing housing or population densities to promote health, building on similar arguments related to sustainability. They have promoted programs of metropolitan densification, to regulating maximum and minimum densities in greenfield locations, to urban infill incentives. Discussions about density levels and patterns have been at times vibrant and full of conflict; at other times the benefits or problems have been taken for granted.

Density has been of particular interest because, depending on the topic, different density levels and types appear to cause problems or create benefits, can typically be measured and compared with some precision, and are amenable to manipulation via the toolkit of urban and regional planning strategies.

Density, however, comes in multiple forms and intersects with a wide range of health issues making such debates complex. In many cases effects are mixed; high planning densities can be helpful, problematic, or unimportant got health depending on the type of density, health issue, and population. Density is often confused with closely related terms such as crowding or building height.

This paper clarifies the concept of density and distinguishes measured planning density from several closely related terms such as crowding, population ratios, and housing types. It conceptualizes how density relates to healthy environments generally. Exploring the case of design for frail seniors it shows that people can do well in different densities but for different health issues, different types and levels of densities may offer advantages. For example, lower building densities can help with air quality and higher population densities access to services.

Overall, density remains an important planning concept with relevance for both understanding and remaking places in the coming century.

Journals

Town Planning Review 89.3 Featured Article

The editors of TPR have selected ‘Minding the gap: the professionals’ view on the interaction between urban design theory and practice’ by Hooman Foroughmand Araabi as the Featured Article for the latest issue.

It will be free to access for a limited time here

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

Minding the gap

This paper looks into the ways in which the theory and practice of urban design interact and identify reasons why there are sometimes gaps between the two. A set of interviews with leading theorists and influential practitioners helped me to analyse the key factors and mechanisms that are (in)forming both theory and practice. Understanding these mechanisms will enable professionals (both academics and practitioners) to more purposefully progress the field of urban design. So, the paper minds the gap in two senses, first by drawing attention to gaps between theory and practice and second by presenting thinking on how to do something about those gap(s)!

This paper shares a wide range of findings. For example, it is evident that knowledge does not pass seamlessly from one party to another. Practitioners are busy developing their own knowledge that is situated, site-specific and practical whilst academics, in turn, are busy producing outcomes for reaching a high level of academic measurements. Nonetheless, the paper reports positive and provocative findings about the interactions between theory and practice.

Even though the interviewees were all English language speakers, the paper provides inspiration for urban designers globally. The readers can compare their own experiences with those of the professionals described here. This paper aims to be a first step in revisiting urban design as a profession, understanding its relation to more fundamental theories (such as social sciences) and finding effective ways to better link practice back to theory.