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Making Plans

Abstract and Keywords

This article discusses the process of plan making in urban design. It explains that the historical roots of the planning profession included the collaborative efforts of architects, landscape architects, and civil engineers, and suggests that urban planners learn to make plans by studying plans and how they are made. The article considers current professional plan making as a kind of practical judgment to compose future settlements using the evidence of science to inform and tame imaginative designs about future alternatives.

Keywords: plan making, urban design, planning profession, collaborative efforts, urban planners, future settlements

1. Introduction

in this chapter I will argue that urban planners learn to make plans by studying plans and how they are made. Professional planners use explicit principles and norms to form and guide the formal theory or method of plan-making. I roughly cluster these traditions into two domains of plan-making craft: design artistry and scientific competence. Professionals also draw upon cultural inheritance, personal experience, and communication with others to identify the relevance and meaning of the values that inform their plans These features tap a tacit and widespread human cognitive capacity that I nickname “small ‘p’ planning.” I argue that conceptions of professional plan making that recognize this resource avoid exaggerated and exclusive expertise.

The historical roots of the planning profession included the collaborative efforts of architects, landscape architects, and civil engineers making plans to beautify industrial urban centers with public parks, plazas, and civic centers, as well as transport plans to alleviate traffic congestion using roadway and rail improvements. The collaboration was necessary because the objects for the plans—cities and regions—do not possess the limits of a building or surrounding landscape where physical design enjoins blueprints to guide future construction. Second, they are composed at the broad scale of the municipality or district, where diverse sponsorship requires attention to complex and often conflicting conceptions for the future appearance and use of urban space. These challenges remain today, even as urban design analysts offer an astonishing array of principles to guide future development (Lynch 1981; Alexander et al. 1987; Calthorpe 1993, Van der Ryn and Cowan 1996; Carmora et al. 2003; Gindroz et al. 2003; Barnett 2003; Lang 2005).

(p. 242) Professional practitioners of the engineering and social sciences adopted analytical concepts and tools to city plan making. On the one hand, scientific analysis offers predictability and control through the precise application of methodical analysis and evaluation—for instance, demographic analysis to estimate population change for local places (Myers 1992). On the other hand, science relies on the tolerance, patience, doubt, and prudence of a community of analysts testing hunches about the patterns and causes of urban change (Latour 1988). Hope that scientific prediction might enable improved urban control has proved elusive and even misguided. Many technical and physical features of urban construction and infrastructure benefit from scientific precision, but the lessons of scientific collaboration and the discipline of joint inquiry currently animate plan making. Ironically, the rational planning model promulgated optimistically in the 1950s (Black 1990) continues to invite criticism even as plan makers still adapt sets of scientific tools to conceive and test plan beliefs and proposals (Hopkins 2001; Berke and Godschalk 2006; Hoch, So, and Dalton 2000; Healy et al. 1997).

Professional planners employ knowledge that combines design and science to represent select urban relationships as images, descriptions, narratives, arguments, and models that sponsors and clients can use to comprehend the relationship between purpose and context, comparing alternative futures. The interests and hopes of the sponsors and clients shape plan-making design and analysis in ways that defy easy summary. In this chapter, I frame current professional plan making as a kind of practical judgment. Instead of designing attractive places as architects do or analyzing predictable urban patterns as social scientists do, professional planners compose future settlements using the evidence of science to inform and tame imaginative designs about future alternatives. These plans inform the intentions people hold about the future of a settlement—intentions susceptible to deliberate persuasive change.

How do we combine knowledge from such different domains? I believe we rely on practical reasoning and judgment (Hoch 2002, 2007). Professional plan making taps the resources of practical judgment to represent and interpret the relationships among sponsorship, clientele, and the professional interplay of artistic and scientific composition. Here, the conventional amateur arts of speaking, writing, enumerating, and visualizing provide the scaffolding for composing plans. Professional training and practice applies more specialized knowledge and skills to this scaffold, improving the validity, resiliency, and relevance of the plan making craft that it supports. This conception of professional planning presumes that most people already know how to make plans, but that professionals learn to improve this skill and put it to use advising diverse audiences of stakeholders how to anticipate and prepare for future urban change (Hoch 1994).

How do we combine design arts and scientific analysis to improve the quality of the composition activity used to make urban plans?1 We all learn to plan reflectively as we acquire and use language to shape our futures with others. We plan outings, meetings, and gatherings. We anticipate and coordinate where to pitch a tent, hold a meeting, or otherwise keep a promise in diverse social contexts and (p. 243) settings. We use plans to turn desires and preferences into practical commitments that we can follow until we lose interest, conditions change, or a satisfactory outcome ensues.

We should not confuse plan making with desires that fuel goals or decisions that turn goals into action. Plan making offers counsel between desire and decision. Plans include deliberate reflection about what to do, but do not compel or otherwise require decisions or choices. Plans inform intentions. As such, they may be ignored, dropped, revised, amended, or even adopted to help fit goals to context, purpose to place, means to an end, or some other purpose-laden situation that allows forethought and anticipation.

What happens when we face conflicting desires and goals? How do we create personal plans when we find ourselves facing competing attractions? We need to reconcile goal diversity; otherwise, any planning effort will fail at the outset. There are two considerations. First, planning does not resolve differences in basic desires or commitments to antagonistic goals. Plans do not motivate, they mediate. Planning can reconcile differences among competing interpretations about the relevance and meaning of current desires and goals—as long as these interpretations remain open to such reconsideration because the plan audience has yet to make a commitment to any one or combination. As we deliberate with ourselves or others about different plans, we offer advice about imagined future outcomes and effects. We may anticipate risky and uncertain threats to desires and goals, and we see what differences these might make for different situations. We may project disruptions to familiar institutions or practices, and assess future effects in seeking and reaching disparate goals.

Second, as we represent future situations and outcomes, we use knowledge to help us create and compare different goal-choice sets. We may review the quality and meaning of competing desires and goals, as well as prepare more useful and valid plans to judge imagined effects. Often, we deliberate with others and use the knowledge we acquire together to adjust how we coordinate our trajectories for the future. Plan-making knowledge includes comprehension of diverse purposes, using ideas about urban change to form and assess these trajectories.

The chapter draws upon the research and insights of cognitive science to construct a naturalistic account of planning (Mumford, Schultz, and Van Doorn 2001). This naturalistic account sidesteps the expectations associated with rational decision making. Instead of seeking a theoretical foundation to support how professionals make plans, we need to pay more attention to studying and describing how we plan. We develop theoretical ideas within the context of practical inquiry. From this viewpoint, we always meet the practical demands for planning before we tackle the epistemic demands of rationality. We may plan well even as our plans do not meet the standards of rationality. Instead of treating Herbert Simon's concept of “satisficing” as a poor version of rationality, we may instead consider it as a prerequisite for practical judgment (Simon 1957; Gigerenzer 2000). So, as professional planners turn their attention to order complex urban relationships, I argue that they use craft to filter and assimilate knowledge obtained by design and scientific disciplines.

(p. 244) 2. Plan-Making Goals

Planners compose and present combinations of goals demonstrating how selecting one or another will yield a different outcome. Plan makers frequently overlook this aspect of goal setting and problem framing. Selecting and comparing goal sets includes constructing a frame of reference and specific measures to describe relevant change across space and over time. The plan maker considers the desires, needs, and goals of the sponsor and client to frame intentions that focus on only a limited portion of the complex relationships that compose a neighborhood or a city.

These comparisons introduce provisional concepts used to imagine the plausible effects of a specific imagined or simulated future tied to a unique combination of current beliefs and goals. Urban plans cannot offload the back and forth of revision without ignoring complex interactions. The meaning of traffic congestion, water conservation, and park location may begin with options that project current standards, but iterative comparisons of different goals and beliefs yield different effects for the future.

As we make plans for an urban district, an institution, or a region, we comprehend the relevance of the goals that fuel interest and involvement with the plan by drawing comparisons that inform judgments about the meanings and importance of these goals. Many of the goals may exclude one another. For example, congestion relief from increased transit use accompanies a reduction in trip-chaining convenience. Tax relief for homeowners means less revenue for park district expansion. Other goals may complement one another, as when roadway improvements increase access to retail business, enhance the flow of through traffic, and encourage private investment in adjacent property. The more clearly, thoroughly, and fairly plan makers conduct this assessment, the more those involved will understand the meaning of the plan. In this sense, value judgments give focus and meaning to plans, even as they make the plan more politically relevant.

A plan anticipates building a joint intention toward the future. This means that stakeholders of a plan expect it may help them decide what action to take toward the future. The plan provides a tool for interpreting the meaning of distant and expansive goals in terms of intermediate steps. The client may change the goals and the plan as people, conditions, or their interactions change; plans must be provisional, otherwise they could not offer practical guidance of this sort. Finally, there may, and will likely, exist many plans for the same settlement or place.

Urban planners taught to value comprehensive planning may confuse breadth of practical relevance and scope with a unitary or exclusive authority (Kelly, Becker, and So 1999). Critics of urban planners and planning who complain that plans do not include implementation authority misconstrue how plans work. Plans persuade people to act by informing their intentions, whether as public officials, community organizers, homeowners, activists, investors, or builders. These actions may fail or succeed in accomplishing the purposes of the plan. If people follow the plan, it (p. 245) worked. If ensuing consequences produce a disaster, then a review might find that the plan offered bad advice (Hall 1982). But it may also be that other personal or institutional failures contributed to the disaster (Dormer 1997). And plans may be good even if the immediate consequences prove unimpressive (Petroski 2007; see also Hopkins, this volume).

Often, critics of urban plan making will cynically dismiss the effort and its product as a pointless and wasteful exercise. This may prove a legitimate criticism if the people involved (including professional planners) do not sincerely, truthfully, competently, and legitimately work together to foster commitment to the plan (Forester 1989). But it may be a dismissive attack by those who hope to obtain their purposes without attending to the purposes of others (Flyvberg 1998). Other times, people have learned one scheme for resolving certain problems that fits their organizational or community context, and they do not want to consider another option. Their commitment to a strategy or plan makes it difficult to consider a plan that might encompass other desires and goals (Innes and Booher 1999a). There are many reasons not to plan. Planners need to understand these reasons in order to anticipate and prepare for criticism.

3. Plan-Making Knowledge

When we make “small ‘p’ plans,” we rely upon our common sense knowledge of the world, for example, to map out a travel route for an efficient commute home, draw up a shopping list for a trip to the supermarket, or prepare a recipe for a meal. If explored carefully enough, however, even these “simple” activities prove more complex than we presume. Human evolution has selectively favored “small ‘p’ planning” aptitude (Mithen 1996; Seabright 2004; Arp 2008). The tacit cognitive planning skill that we take for granted becomes obvious when we suffer physical damage that immobilizes motor skills or brain capacity. Putting things in order and then following the order we make relies upon an extraordinary set of complex hard-wired processes. Physical therapists create detailed plans for helping injured people learn how to recover their “common sense” judgment about balance, distance, grasping, and the like after the trauma of an accident or the ravages of a serious illness, thereby regaining the use of a previously “automatic” plan-making capacity.

When we make urban plans, we cannot rely directly on the intuitive sensibility of our own bodies but must turn, instead, to the complex mediation of social and institutional relationships. We may borrow ideas and experiences from individual plan making to inform how we make these plans, but our intuitions cannot grasp the institutional and organizational complexity of modern urban societies. We must rely upon representations created jointly or by others. For instance, we create organizational models to map out relationships of influence and responsibility. (p. 246) By the middle of the twentieth century, the creation of planning commissions and departments as units of municipal and county government in the United States offered organizational vehicles for plan making. As urban renewal, public housing, water quality, economic development, environmental conservation, and a host of publicly fostered improvement policies obtained popular support, the institutional relationships needed to organize and manage the pursuit of these policies grew as well. Making plans offered a way to coherently comprehend and order these efforts.

Urban planning relies on representations of what people believe and do in interactive settings across scale (from the block to the region). Planners use different forms of inquiry combining social and environmental science, design arts, and theoretical and moral reflection to observe, compose, analyze, and justify representations of these settings. These modes of inquiry and associated vocabularies each focus attention on a portion of these relationships.

When professional planners represent urban change, they selectively frame and organize different representations used to order these shifting relationships based on the purpose of the plan. This relevance criterion helps guide the use of different disciplinary concepts and tools. The purpose often includes multiple interests and goals, some explicitly presented while others less so. When two individuals set a time to meet and discuss a contract, they select a time and place to come together, evoking for one another a common frame of reference that usually is based on familiar memories: “Let's meet at Jena's Grill.” The terms of the contract discussion may involve a different, less tacit process, as the demands of the agreement require preparation and study; the ensuing results remain elusive and unsettled, open to deliberation. Casting the same distinctions at the large scale, we can imagine institutional and organizational arrangements framing the context where the partners to a plan (professionals, sponsors, and clients) meet and deliberate. The different institutional steps taken to develop an inchoate desire or interest into a plan produce a plan-making process that organizes the information used to conceive the plan. Robert Walker (1941), an urban planning reform proponent, argued against the segmenting of planning into a functional bureaucratic slot, and argued for its location as an activity sponsored by the local government executive to coordinate and guide the deployment and organization of specialized services. Later critics point out the limits of centralization and offer instead institutional designs that foster more democratic forms of deliberation (Innes and Booher 1999b).

The ensuing viewpoints, unlike the intention-building features of communication and participation among stakeholders, shape the symbolic products used to describe and analyze the change. For instance, census tract boundaries describe the enumeration districts used to aggregate the household information obtained at the ten-year survey. But plan makers use the census tract to represent a neighborhood, a traffic destination, a policy impact area, or something else relevant to a specific audience.

Professional planners draw upon two kinds of knowledge to organize the representation of urban complexity: theory and method. This distinction describes (p. 247) the curriculum for planning education and encompasses a large portion of the disciplines used to inform how planners represent urban change.

3.1 Theory

Theory includes the beliefs used to describe and analyze complex urban relationships. Planners use theory to answer questions about the reasons and causes for urban order and change. In making a plan, planners compose these answers as narratives, explanations, and arguments about changes in the pattern of urban activity and form that provide the plot line for stories and models that then describe and simulate alternative futures. Professional planners draw largely from theory in the social sciences, engineering sciences, and design arts—theory that emerges from different disciplines: economics, sociology, psychology, political science, geography, anthropology, civil engineering, environmental engineering, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design (Hoch, So, and Dalton 2000). The theoretical knowledge that may prove useful for making plans often exceeds the grasp of any one professional precisely because many different disciplines offer relevant knowledge about order and change for distinct sets of urban relationships. Transmitting the knowledge needed to make plans for complex urban settlement accurately and reliably requires many professionals working together, combining diverse theoretical insights to foster joint comprehension. This proves difficult to do. Planners need be undisciplined enough to gather, sort, and combine disciplinary insights without insisting or imposing the norms of inquiry used to enforce the boundaries of specialized inquiry. Theory holds out the promise of binding these viewpoints together, but the varieties of theoretical discourse rarely enjoin consensus (Healey and Hillier 2008).2

Many theoretical ideas may inform plan making. The first planning professionals were architects and engineers who sought to remedy the social and economic ills of industrial cities using major infrastructure projects and civic improvements to impress order and beauty upon chaotic, ugly urban squalor (Scott 1969; Fairfield 1993). Later, the social sciences provided a crucial resource for professional urban planners and their critics. The Regional Plan for New York provides perhaps the earliest prototype for the region-wide comprehensive plan as conceiving territorial order across a metropolitan landscape that combines economic, physical, social, and legal ideas (Johnson 1996). Thereafter, the concentrated complexity of modern cities inspired utilization of theories from many disciplines and fields. Ironically, this wealth of knowledge about the many dimensions of change and order poses a challenge for practical plan making. What disciplinary theory should guide the interpretation of desire and need? If more than one, what combination merits selection and use? Other chapters in this book provide insight into these different approaches.

Some analysts argue that we need to turn to a distinct planning theory to guide our choices. For instance, they argue for a rationality that systemically encompasses (p. 248) the separate disciplines (Faludi 1986), justifies a particular social or economic theory (Blakely and Green Leigh 2010; Lewis 2003; Green and Haines 2007), or prescribes a certain kind of governance (Sager 2002; Healey et al. 1997). A pragmatic approach side steps this search for a theoretical foundation and conceives of plan making as a kind of practical judgment. The desires, needs, and purposes that animate these plans emerge from the pragmatic view as disruptions to meaningful patterns of continuity that give pause for reflection.

We begin plan making as we identify and describe the frustrated desires, unmet needs, and unclear goals for those people and organizations whose futures include imagined outcomes that might reconcile and resolve these ruptures. The accomplished urban planner draws upon knowledge from diverse disciplines and fields to make sense of a complex situation, whether it's a congested intersection, neighborhood displacement, flood hazard, or corrupt contracting. The pragmatist envisions the cognitive knowledge used to identify and describe problematic situations as a kind of toolkit (Briggs 2008).

3.2 Method

Theory and method complement one another. For example, economists use econometric models based on a specific theory of market demand to analyze housing choices and then use the results to build a model that might forecast future demand. In this way, the why and how of market changes complement one another.

Professional planners learn to use tools developed from the different sciences and design arts, too. These tools describe the aspects of urban relationships that planners believe are relevant for future change and susceptible to purposeful intervention. Professionals tend to specialize in some set of methods usually organized around topical clusters of urban relationships. For instance, a transportation planner might combine knowledge from civil engineering with knowledge from economics and environmental science to represent the value of complex environmental features tied to specific kinds of transportation improvements. The planner might consider using cost-benefit analysis or agent-based modeling to animate urban change (Kitchen 2007).

Methods need be tamed both by the relevance of the inquiry—the purpose guiding the plan—and the knowledge combination so as to offer practical advice about future actions. The planner needs be sure to use any disciplinary tool correctly, but avoid adopting (projecting) the disciplinary beliefs and standards where the tool works best. For instance, this might be adopting economic base analysis to project local impacts on municipal employment, using national park standards to estimate a shortfall in local park land requirements, or estimating future activity levels for a redevelopment site using trend analysis.

Theory and method include vast amounts of knowledge about urban relationships, but the conventions of inquiry for each cannot serve as the point of departure for plan making. The demands for adequate research, theoretical insight, or (p. 249) critical design within disciplinary traditions can keep someone from taking the first practical step in plan making. The demands of sponsors and clients holding different expectations for the future, and insisting on timely advice, provide the catalyst for plan making. Urban planners start with the practical desires and goals that focus public attention on a problem, making and offering practical advice that clients may use to consider alternative solutions. So, planners need to make sure that their representations offer relevant practical knowledge. Plan making works more like a craft than a science, more like an SUV than a sports car.

Composing an urban plan helps us move beyond the pointless seesaw of wish fulfillment on one side (if we just stick with goal-oriented fantasy) and causal inevitability on the other (if we stick with one concept of causal attribution about underlying urban complexity). Instead, we compose plans as we foster commitment to the plan among the relevant clients and create representations of urban complexity that offer alternatives that the clients can willingly and successfully use to assess the prospects for the future and modify current policy and practice. But how do planners compose relevant, valid, and useful advice?

4. Composing Plans

Plans order urban complexity in ways that inform the choices we make about current polices, practices, and behavior. The population projection, the economic forecast, the land-use suitability assessment, and other similar studies do not uncover the truth of the city, but they provide ordered relationships that plausibly frame future conditions—frames that rely on judgments combining future expectations, prior assumptions, and current observations. We compose these frames with specific audiences in mind. That is how planners can interpret the meaning of the goals and plausibly relate these goals to the contextual conditions of a specific situation. We do not make the plan for a universal, godlike audience but, rather, for specific audiences (Mandelbaum 2000). So, when we compose judgments that frame future conditions, we anticipate the responses and use these to modify our expectations, assumptions, and observations. The objectivity of our work flows from the quality of this composition rather than from any imagined capacity to form judgments exclusive of a specific audience. But how do we compose plans?

The model of inquiry that has a professional planner engaging in scientific or moral discovery in order to compose a plan will likely lead to trouble. The planner needs to approach the task with ideas about relevant futures already in mind, but with ideas that offer provisional sketches of future outcomes sensitive to a divergence of outlook and subject to modification and rejection. Planners offer alternatives to raise questions that help frame the problem and develop the contours for the plan that will include knowledge of urban relationships that can (p. 250) tame and channel unrealistic, misinformed, or mistaken beliefs about urban complexity.3

When we envision and imagine representations that describe future changes, and the outcomes these changes might produce, we adopt different orientations. These orientations combine client purpose and theoretical ideas into an integrated product. They include precedent, protocol, prototype, and policy. The orientations need not be mutually exclusive. People can combine orientations to improve the quality and depth of efforts to prepare a plan and to judge the quality of the plans they read. But for purposes of this analysis, I emphasize the differences, as follows:4

Precedent looks backward to prior efforts whose authority proved useful and legitimate (prestigious or popular) in shaping plans. The framework tells its user to adapt the precedent to current conditions as a guide for projecting beliefs about future designed changes to these conditions (Heritage Plans).

Protocol describes current “best practice” abstracted into plan-making rules, conventions, and guidelines that others should copy and adapt to new situations. The frame presumes little ambiguity and uncertainty across relevant urban locales to make copying useful and acceptable (State Planning Law).

Prototype involves invention of new forms of representation that transpose ambiguous hopes and beliefs into plausible future visions or tools for constructing them. Prototypes go beyond trial-and-error increments to include imaginative scenarios. For instance, planning support visualization efforts do not simply illustrate a problem; they make possible conceptions of relationships previously difficult or even impossible to envision. These new simulations, models, projections, or images enable us to adapt old means to new ends, new means to old ends, or both (Myers 2001).

Policy turns complex problems into complex action proposals that represent plausible options for the future.5 The stakeholders agree about facts and causes, yet hold different expectations about future effects. The policy plan compares the meanings of alternative moral and political trajectories, seeking to test their contributions to these effects. Plans to end homelessness, remedy regional employment disparities, and ensure water conservation work in this fashion.

I will describe how each orientation interprets the complexity and ambiguity of purpose with concepts and ideas, thereby taming the uncertainty of future effects.

4.1 Precedent: Prior Experience in a Particular Context

When we begin a plan, we often start where others left off in earlier plan-making efforts, or we look to the efforts of others in trying to do a plan for a community that shares many characteristics with our own. Additionally, we may look to the (p. 251) precedents set by other professionals, firms, or groups with plan-making experience. For instance, the American Planning Association (APA) promotes “best practices” for different planning activities. These consist mainly of completed plans that have produced valued consequences. The meaning of the consequences flows from an attention to narrative details about the history of effects that accompanied similar efforts in the past.6 This is what Seymour Mandelbaum (2000) describes as “story.” But design and narrative overlap and interplay in plan making as human purposes transform space and time into place and journey.

Precedent proceeds inductively, starting with observation and attention to details and comparing across cases to uncover patterns of variation and association—difference and similarity, as these relate to specific change efforts. Designers often learn to conceive plans by analyzing how earlier plans worked in a specific place and time. What elements of form and fit might be carried forward in time and applied to a new place? These elements constitute the precedent that inspires current effort (Barnett 2003; Lang 2005). When we use precedent, we can still recognize the author in the authorization it provides for its user. We use elements of Olmstead's Central Park or Bernnini's Piazza Navonna. The 1909 Plan of Chicago used European precedent to describe residential and civic space for that industrial city's future.

As we combine these precedents, we consider how well prior analysis, tools, conceptions, and activities inform our beliefs and expectations about current relationships—those we select for attention and believe susceptible to change. Precedent emphasizes continuity with prior experience and action, using the past to explicitly reference a future organized in familiar and desirable terms.

4.2 Protocol: A Convention of Prior Inquiry

We usually do not start from scratch but, rather, by adapting an existing practice that other, more experienced (e.g., veteran) and more powerful (e.g., supervisor) planners have used to make plans. But there are many other, less sweeping protocols often embedded in specific institutional histories or regional occupational traditions. The protocol differs from precedent, in consisting of conventions, customs, rules, or principles. Some protocols may have stood the test of time, but others might be the product of recent consensus, legislative mandate, or judicial ruling (Brody 2003). Protocols often draw upon precedent, but the specific features of the precedent disappear. For instance, we adopt park standards or parkway standards as described in the ordinance, regulations, guidelines, or textbook, not by studying the original.

Protocols draw upon conceptual ideals, images, blueprints, or other sources for deductive insight. The most generic protocol is the framework for the rational plan (e.g., goals, analysis, alternatives, evaluation, implementation), the social science model emulating urban behaviors (e.g., transportation mode split model), or other abstract conceptions of order borrowed from current knowledge. This type represents a vast domain divided up by disciplinary specialization (e.g., economics, geography) and practical technique (cost-benefit analysis, geographic information (p. 252) systems). The textbook on land-use planning by Berke and Godschalk (1996) offers an excellent example.

Protocols have gained popular footing among planners because they encourage copying for ease of use. The protocol also complements the demands of modern institutional life, where consistency with regulatory rules or institutional conventions matches the predictable patterns and sequences of organizational activity (Dalton and Burby 1994). But often, planning problems demand attention to relationships and attributes that do not fit current practices. For instance, institutional conventions and personal habits work well because they resist change. So, we tend to use protocols for situations where we expect change to be modest and uncertainty to be low (Pendall 2001). Many plans look so much alike because their makers copied one another. This works until the rate of change accelerates or gets lumpy.

4.3 Prototypes: Innovations Linking New Ideas to Unfamiliar Contexts

We can make a plan to show others how new ideas make certain kinds of complexity legible, tractable, beautiful, and the like. Prototypes draw upon the knowledge of precedent and protocol, but they do not rely upon these sources for composing the plan. Utopian plans represent perhaps the strongest example of such prototypes; these are plans that include detailed descriptions of future designs and their expected effects, offering surprising, unfamiliar, and novel responses to urban change. For example, the super-block design for worker housing became a popular prototype for new town development in the twentieth century. Olmsted invented the urban pastoral landscape that profoundly shaped the organization and function of urban parks across the United States. Tax-increment financing was invented to get around public finance approval and was adapted over time into a redevelopment tool for guiding private investment. So, prototypes break with prior beliefs and provoke a critical yet practical revision of beliefs about an alternative for the future.

Designers and theorists compose an imagined product that demonstrates how a newly imagined design of physical arrangement, structural form, functional operation, institutional order, organizational process, or some other arena of the urban complex will provide a comprehensible order that tames complexity in a new way (McHarg 1969). The plan as prototype generates comprehension of how the future might appear after the new idea takes shape as imagined (Wheeler 2008). Often, prototypes emerge by mixing disciplinary insights in imaginative juxtapositions or combinations. The pragmatic conception of “abduction” best describes this activity: instead of offering inductive consistency or deductive coherence, the protocol uses plausible relevance to fit concept to task.

Prototypes can be tied to the rational comprehensive protocol, but they may also adopt or invent other protocols (e.g., adversarial, negotiated, brokered, etc.). Prototypes may be imagined and tested in the context of certain problem (p. 253) definitions. We might, for instance, cast a prototype as a scenario or a simulation of future urban features and relationships (Hopkins and Zapata 2007).

4.4 Policy: Solution Sets in Search of Problem Settings

We can make a plan by paying attention to the kinds of tools we know how to use and that have worked well in the past. We look in our toolkit seeking ideas for how to compose a response to complex urban relationships. Plan makers describe complex uncertainties using policy tools and solutions they trust. This counterintuitive yet widespread approach tends to emphasize beliefs about the efficacy of a method or tool. The more complex the urban setting, and the more diverse the audience, the greater the risk a methodical solution will not work.

Familiarity with a policy solution set such as knowledge of a protocol offers a consistent way to frame urban complexity for a plan. Scanning, selecting, and comparing different solutions offer a proactive way to anticipate and frame a response to specific aspects of urban complexity (McGahey and Vey 2008). For instance, we know how to improve the efficiency of local capital-improvement programs, so we focus on the economic problems facing infrastructure maintenance in a local municipality (Porter 2007). We know how to use tax increment finance (TIF) districts to stimulate local commercial reinvestment, so we focus attention on the property-tax revenue capacity of a local jurisdiction. In the strong instances, we might engage in a kind of reverse engineering: we identify a familiar set of future outcomes that we associate with the successful use of our planning tool, and then work backward through the tool's relevant features, framing the problem to fit with our beliefs about a solution (Mitchell 2008). A weaker version adopts the familiar tool as a kind of diagnostic device to provisionally frame possible solutions in ways that address aspects of local complexity (Arnott, Rave, and Schob 2005). Social scientists, engineers and architects often succumb to the temptation of taking a policy approach because their attachments to the discipline and its conventions blind them to those features of complexity that escape the grasp of the tools they know best (Dormer 1997; Petroski 2007).

The meaning and priority of an orientation depends on the practical situation the plan maker faces. The orientations describe the conduct of plan making and not the ideal types.

5. Conclusion

I have emphasized a conception of plan making in this chapter that purposely avoids longstanding debates about collective decision making and governance or (p. 254) about rationality and theoretical foundations. Treating plan making as a practical tool that informs intention means that we can understand how we do plans without having to settle theoretical disagreements about political agreement or rational expectations. These interesting and fruitful debates too often distract us from considering the many ways that plans work to translate desires into intentions that may, in turn, inspire us and others to act together in more or less rational ways.

At the very outset of the plan, as participants articulate their desires, needs, and goals, they set out their expectations of the future. For each of us, the future we know in the present inhabits an imagined world that we create. The planner draws upon knowledge from theory and method to inform the conversations, discussions, and debates that ensue at the very beginning of the plan-making effort. The planner constructs descriptions of the future based on that theory and prior experience, composing sketchlike futures that take account of stakeholder goals. These imaginary alternatives allow stakeholders to grasp the contours of difference that their views might make for varying versions of the future.

Plan-making composition does not challenge the purposes that people hold directly but, rather, seeks to describe the meaning of these diverse purposes within the context of complex relationships tied to relevant future consequences. The claims of precedent might shift over time to become a durable protocol. Innovative prototypes may be refined into precedents. Policy-relevant outlooks may pop up wherever and whenever practical solutions offer an opportunity for useful and coherent action guides.

The craft of plan making offers an important resource for those people and agencies taking responsibility for the future of urban settlements. Urban planners succeed if their sponsors and clients listen to the advice offered in a plan, and they celebrate if the clients take the advice to heart. It is too much to expect that clients will act upon the plan so as to obtain outcomes exactly as described, however. The metaphor of the architectural blueprint places too great a burden on the practice of urban planning. The complexity of changing expectations and urban relationships makes this unrealistic and undesirable. Plans do help people and organizations anticipate and adapt, not to predict and control. Learning to improve how we compose plans contributes to the quality of the judgments that people and institutions can make.


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                                                                                                                            (1.) Raphaël Fischler (2000) offers an excellent review of different conceptions of rational planning in a review of case studies: instrumental, interpretive, and practical. This chapter adopts a pragmatic conception of planning that steps around the rationality issue by insisting that the difference between what is learned from theory and practice is more a matter of degree than of kind. We do not need theory as a foundation, but as a kind of conceptual critique that holds action accountable to the standards of science, morals, art, and any other important cultural norms.

                                                                                                                            (2.) While many people insist that planners be multidisciplined, this imposes an impractical demand on professionals. The time and effort needed to acquire disciplinary knowledge precludes any one individual's acquiring multiple disciplines. Professionals need to learn instead how to learn and adapt the knowledge of different disciplines as part of the practical judgment used to make plans. Hence, the term “undisciplined” focuses attention on the detachment needed to grasp the meaning of disciplinary ideas for purposes outside the discipline.

                                                                                                                            (3.) Planning is not “applied social science” precisely because the cognitive organization of planning knowledge includes practical expectations at the outset of inquiry. We can adapt knowledge from many different sources to make plans, but no one of these sources—even powerful scientific inquiry—adequately substitutes for planning judgment. How we conduct scientific research does not provide a model for how we conduct urban plan making.

                                                                                                                            (4.) There may be more than four, and these four may be more clearly distinguished than I am able to do at this time. I am trying to develop a vocabulary to help describe how people in complex institutional settings conceive the form and meaning of practical advice about an uncertain future. If we avoid the rational–irrational trap, then our attention shifts to the varieties of organized ways that people use.

                                                                                                                            (5.) I am self-consciously avoiding disciplinary distinctions here. We may acquire our academic expertise as historian, geographer, economist, engineer, architect, and so on. But these boundaries rarely play a prominent role in the practical art of plan making.

                                                                                                                            (6.) The “best practice” approach too often substitutes mimesis for irony, sacrificing the critical contextual details of historical narrative for relatively superficial similarities between past and present. Casting the debate between academic theory and practitioner practicality is not helpful, especially as those promoting this misleading stereotype want to convince practitioners that the particular version of practical best practice they are selling works everywhere with ease.