Conclusion of The Planning Impulse

The purpose of planning is to support a city’s efforts to notice, adjust and organize to ensure the city is able to integrate the needs of its citizens with its context.  As we build cities, our work is to ensure that we create a habitat for ourselves in which we will thrive.

This second chapter of Nest City explores where the impulse to plan comes from as our cities become more complex. The first four posts that form the second chapter of Next City build on  my experience in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Mayor Dennis O’Keefe invites visitors to a planning conference to explore the ‘unplanned’ city.  My exploring continued after my visit there.  The first four posts that make this chapter are:

  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 1  Life conditions – the times we live in, the geographic place, the challenges we face and the social circumstances – shape the purpose of a city.  
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 2  The shape of a city is determined by its geography, its purpose, the activities within and in connection to other cities – it’s life conditions.
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 3  As life conditions change, cities shift and adjust. The purpose of the city evolves.  Planning is an activity that supports our collective work to organize ourselves to ensure our habitat – our cities – serve us well.
  • Is an unplanned city unplanned?  Part 4  Along with evolving purposes of the city come corresponding evolving modes of organizing.  One of the new ways of organizing was the planning profession.

The subsequent posts tease out the complexity of planning now – it is not a simple linear, mechanical process:

  • City – a dance of voice and values  The evolving city purposes and modes of organizing are part of an evolving value system.  There are four integral ‘voices’ in the city: city managers, city builders, civil society and citizens.  These values and voices are in the mix as we organize ourselves to thrive in cities.
  • Integrating voices and values  Many purposes, modes of organizing and purposes occur all at once, creating a messy and uncertain world.  No one entity has control of the city.  Planners do not have a recipe – let alone all the ingredients.
  • Recalibrating the purpose of planning  As an activity, planning has to hold a destination in mind, allow for learning and adjustment along the way, and recognize that we do not know exactly where we are going to end up.
  • A new era of planning cities  Planning now is about have a clear, collective sense of intention and purpose to drive our work.  Cities are growing and we are growing with them.  The opportunity is to grow purposefully.
Two conclusions arise.  The first is that the overriding purpose of a city is to integrate the needs of its people, with its context, to create a habitat in which people will survive and thrive (Is an unplanned city unplanned? Part 3).  The second is that the purpose of planning is to support city efforts to notice, adjust and organize to ensure people survive and thrive (Is an unplanned city unplanned? Part 4).
The activity of planning is in the process of recalibrating, in order to integrate the new and emerging voices and values of the city.  This is necessary for planning to respond to today’s life conditions, rather than those of decades or centuries ago.  To meet the needs of  citizens, cities must adapt.  In order for cities to adapt to the evolving needs of citizens, citizens need to adapt as well.
The next series of posts will form Chapter Three – The Thriving Impulse.  They will explore what it means to thrive, from an evolutionary sense.  Part Two – Organizing for Emergence and Part Three – Nest City will get into the details of how we can organize ourselves to serve ourselves better.  
Sources –

Beck, Don Edward and Cowan, Christopher C., Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership, and Change, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford (2006), particularly pages 52-56.

Hamilton, Marilyn, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive, New Society Publishers Inc., Gabriola Island (2008)

Sanders, Beth, “From the High Water Mark to the Back of the Fish Flakes: The Evolutionary Purpose of Cities,” Vol 51, No. 4, p 26-31, Plan Canada.  Print publication of the Canadian Institute of Planners.

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