Why is planning so unscientific?

Why is planning so unscientific?

Postby Frank Taylor » Mon Oct 16, 2006 1:39 pm

If you look at a document like this:
You can see with hindsight that 65 years ago, the authors were making things up as they went along. Their prescriptions for Dublin have had huge implications for all the residents of the city for decades since then and for decades to come.

The authors propose single-use zoning backed up with observations from the opening scene of Pygmalion and a holiday in New York.

Later they recommend:
Experience indicates that six to the acre is the most satisfactory density for good class development in an inner suburban area
You know, experience.

A few decades afterwards, the planners can blithely draw up new documents recommending the opposite: mixed use zoning and 50 dwellings to the acre in suburban areas.

So what's it to be in 10 or 20 years time?

Is planning just a pseudoscience based on whatever fads are current?

The government has funded billions for more scientific research, so why not put some research into discovering
  • Which urban forms make people happy?
  • Which urban forms have the lowest carbon footprint per inhabitant?
  • Why have some of the well intentioned suburban features failed so miserably in the past (such as the amenity open spaces that became prairies)?
  • What was wrong with the process that led to these hugely costly mistakes?
Frank Taylor
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Re: Why is planning so unscientific?

Postby alonso » Mon Oct 16, 2006 11:07 pm

very big question that can only be truly answered in Ireland by a 2 year masters course in UCD, to be honest!!!

Planning may be regarded as the built physical manifestation of the prevailing social/economic and political situation. Therefore its emphasis may change dramatically according to changes in society and we can go from 6 to the acre in Mount Merrion in the 1940's to 50 to the acre in Stillorgan today.

Its genesis was in the need to mitigate the environmental damage caused by the industrial revolution in the UK and the subsequent need to house the new urban workers. Hence the Model towns such as Bournville, Port Sunlight, New Lanark and Saltaire, built by Industrialists who wanted better conditions for the factory floor staff. Bournville was built by Cadbury (y'know the bar of the same name?) , Port Sunlight by Lever Bros. (sunlight soap) and Saltaire was built by Titus Salt.. Only one example exists in Ireland, i think, Portlaw, built by Malcolmson I believe....

This type of planning was formalised in the late 19th/early 20th Century when Land Use Zoning was introduced. This aimed to seperate dirty polluting industries from Housing. Back then there was a massive reaction against the urban and this can only be seen in hindsight as an admirable aim. We then get various philospohies emerging such as the Linear City, the Radiant City, City Beautiful, the Garden City etc. All attempted to engineer utopian communities, with a huge emphasis on segregation of land uses and on provision of open space, hence very low density schemes...

By the mid 20th Century, the growth of the car compunded this trend and the Post War New Towns movement was based around low density, car dominant, wide open settlement patterns. See Milton Keynes or Cumbernauld. Europe was in a massive housing crisis at the time due to the destruction of the war, and at the same time, the car was beginning to be seen as a panacea for mobility problems, meaning people and their work and services could be located further and further apart.

I think it would be unfair therefore to regard planning as a "pseudoscience based on whatever fads are current". It aims to deal with current problems in an affective a manner as possible and can only do so based on whatever knowledge is available at the time. Remember Ballymun was the most desirable address in Dublin in 1969 and the tearing up of the Railways was seen as a progressive policy in the 1950's...

to answer your questions:

Which urban forms make people happy?
depends on the people, their stage of life etc. As a child, lots of good quality safe open space, as a twentysomething, close to the city/job/entertainment with less emphasis on the immediate environment, as a parent, again open space semi-d/terraced with back garden. I couldn't comment on what retired people actually want but rattling around in a 4 bedroom gaff doesn't sound too good. So in other words, I believe we require all types of urban form in a city. The problem is in Ireland, we've really only had 1 for decades, the 10/acre suburban estate

Which urban forms have the lowest carbon footprint per inhabitant?
I reckon high density with services within walking distance, close to Public Transport for commuting if necessary, with high quality cycling facilities. Think Adamstown, hopefully

Why have some of the well intentioned suburban features failed so miserably in the past (such as the amenity open spaces that became prairies)?
Mostly answered above. So much reaction against heavy urbanism led to an overemphasis on the quantity of open space, rather than the quality. The fact that a lot of these areas fell into disadvantage did not help as open spaces became the focal point for anti social behaviour. Decent parks and sports grounds, overlooked and surrounded by dwellings are the way forward and it's beginning to happen... slowly

What was wrong with the process that led to these hugely costly mistakes?
One word. integration. Integration of housing provision with service provision, of people with jobs, transport, local shops, community facilities, schools, etc etc...

So I think it;s unfair to blame the planners, engineers or architects from a particular era for developments that are now seen as unsuitable. They mostly reflect their prevailing philosophies. However we do see, time and time again, very poor decisions being made that are grounded in nothing but greed and selfish governance. These are the decisions that leave the planning system open to question...
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