Urban planning: an ‘undisciplined’ discipline

Urban planning: an ‘undisciplined’ discipline

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   1 Version auteur en anglais de « L’urbanisme, une discipline indisciplinée ? », Revue par J R Lawrence, Université de Genève et parue dans : "Futures" 36, Vol. 36, Issue 4, (mai 2004),   Special Issue of FUTURES on Transdisciplinarity (Roderick Lawrence & Carole Després, Eds), Elsevier, London, p. 503-513. Urban Planning : An ‘Undisciplined’ Discipline ? Daniel Pinson CIRTA (Centre Interdisciplinaire de recherche sur les Territoires et leur Aménagement), Institut d’Aménagement Régional, Université de Droit, d’Economie et des Sciences d’Aix-Marseilles, France Abstract The need to cross disciplinary boundaries appeared in scientific research at least twenty years ago. Since its foundation, at the beginning of the 20th Century, urban planning has been claiming the assets of multidisciplinarity. It is particularly concerned with transgressing disciplinary boundaries. However, multidisciplinarity may weaken urban planning as a discipline, because it is a recent knowledge domain that has borrowed without questioning from the knowledge acquired in both the social and engineering sciences. Urban planning may forget to formulate an inventory and to build its own theoretical and practical assets. This article argues that it is only when a dsicipline has acquired its own identity that it can implement a fertile transdisciplinarity contribution. Keywords : epistemology, urban planning,   multidisciplinarity,   transdisciplinarity, fundamental and applied sciences Introduction : Urban Planning is a « multidisciplinary discipline » Transgressing disciplinary boundaries in research appeared, not less than about twenty years ago, as a blatant requirement of modern science. However, this approach has a long history as illustrated by Thomas Kuhn by the incursion of the physician Dalton into chemistry at the beginning of 20th Century [1]. This approach was considered as an intolerable audacity until recent decades. As far as urban planning is concerned, the shift of all sorts of problematic towards urban issues by the human and social sciences increasingly associates both practising urban planners and researchers, with the specialists of other knowledge. Thus today, it is very difficult for urban planners to ignore the numerous approaches developed by other disciplines. In general, urban planners and researchers are open minded to interdisciplinarity, even though they usually graduated in a precise discipline. Those that have crossed disciplinary boundaries, have frequently been integrated in a multidisciplinary team. Therefore, their initial academic training contributes to urban planning practices, and it also nourishes theoretical debate. A double friction, within the multidisciplinary team often occurs. On the one hand, by the exchange with other disciplines dealing with urban issues; on the other hand, urban planners are required to better define the foundations and the srcinality of their domain. This preoccupation should concern those teaching and researching within this discipline. If this work is not realised, then urban planning, (which is not recognised as an autonomous   2 discipline despite the pretensions of its founders) could disappear as quickly as it appeared. Therefore, it would be reduced to the surreptitious emergence of an intellectual and professional lobby that tried unsuccessfully, during the 20 th  century, to give itself a scientific foundation just as the exact sciences realised in their domain. It would be regrettable if urban planning followed too closely other mature sciences, because it would then only refer to the theoretical and methodological frames of these well established disciplines. If team work constitutes an excellent occasion to learn from these disciplines, it is also a unique opportunity for urban planning to emancipate itself, so that it can further the construction of its own identity. These subjects are discussed in this article. First, the article considers the explicit multidisciplinary position which characterises urban planning since it was founded at the end of 19 th  Century. Then the article will discuss the difficulty of being a " multidisciplinary discipline ". Indeed, this viewpoint implies a double requirement during collaboration with other domains of knowledge. First, it requires an accurate appropriation of what is discovered in other fields; second, it requires an up-to-date identification of what constitutes the city. In essence, the city is the core of urban planning and what makes urban planning srcinal in its perspective and its contribution to knowledge production. Overcoming Contradictions : Towards a « multidisciplinary discipline » Modern urban planning has been characterised by interdisciplinarity since it was founded at the end of 19 th  Century. Since then, academic and professional disciplines have established and split themselves into two groups: the phenomenon sciences, on the one side, and the spiritual ( numen ) sciences, on the other. With Kant’s benediction, this distinction separated science and non-science in a world in which human knowledge had been mixed [2]. Consequently, architecture and urban planning split from engineering following tensions during a conflict with civil engineers. Then, urban planning differentiated itself from architecture by admitting social inquiry influenced by Le Play and his heirs of the Social Museum in France, and by Patrick Geddes in Britain. The compelling rise of the Modern Movement (between 1928 and 1957) practically defeated (but not in theory) the interdisciplinarity of urban planning. However, since its foundation modern urban planning used to consider interdisciplinarity as a widely admitted principle and its analysis did not compete with those of the established disciplines. During the years 1928-1957, urban planning was - almost - the only discipline to pay attention to the city. Until 1975, the city was of little interest to the established disciplines, such as geography, sociology and history, except for contribution of The Chicago School of Sociology. Today, the complex subject of human settlements is not attributed only to urban planning. Therefore, urban planning must overcome a contradiction. On the one hand, this contradiction stems from a multidisciplinary interpretation of the city which endeavours to comprehend the diversity of this « object of nature and subject of culture » as Lévi Strauss defined the city [3]. On the other hand, the contradiction concerns the construction of a disciplinary identity that struggles with its definition because the multidisciplinary principle shows this identity as an absurd   3 viewpoint. The theory of urban planning will have to explicitly deal with this contradiction by considering « excluded third parties » [4] a central idea of a « multidisciplinary discipline », which is particularly relevant for urban planning. This idea may seem conventional to those who consider that the end of the disciplines and the time for transversal themes has arrived. However this article argues that there will always remain a way of tackling viewpoints and knowledge by starting with specific disciplinary theoretical and methodological approaches. According to Kuhn [1], an idea can obtain widespread acceptance if it nourishes contributions that help to confirm and clarify disciplinary approaches. The disciplines, as specific domains of knowledge, are indeed loosely defined sets, which a certain positivist concept of science attempted to fix with epistemological "ruptures" (Bachelard) and "cuts " (Althusser). However, this vision of science, inspired by the evolution of physics until Kant encouraged the separation between the natural and the social sciences, has not always helped scientific constructions, especially of the humanities and other domains of knowledge taking part in the so called "liberal arts"[2,5]. Urban planning should not establish a rigid corpus of immutable knowledge. Instead it should formulate and apply a methodology to create a set of unique capacities based on the relevant borrowings and specific achievements of diverse contributions. Contributing to the Production of a Specific set of Knowledge open to other Domains Urban planning can be considered in terms of three criteria which define the existence of a discipline. These criteria are: first, a specific set of knowledge and know-how; second a training system that allows this knowledge and know-how to be transmitted; and third, a professional organization that participates in applying this knowledge and in ensuring its recognition. Based on these three criteria, urban planning is a discipline within the field of urban issues just as medicine lies within the much broader field of sanitation and health. Research on urban issues calls for a better understanding of territorial dynamics, and of experimental projects and actions in the city. In this respect, urban planning owes its existence as much to theories issued from the practice of urban planning as to the academic construction of knowledge that can be placed effectively and deliberately within this field. Until recently, urban planners often assumed the role of the   " mouche du coche " for other professionals and researchers in diverse disciplines. Today, this situation has begun to change because the status of the city in national territorial planning and in international agreements has changed radically. Many disciplines now provide invaluable contributions that improve information and knowledge about cities, while highlighting the specificity of urban agglomerations and the limitations of urban planning in practice. In well established disciplines (such as geography, economics and sociology), there is a large potential for diverse contributions, that remain within the framework of disciplinary fields, in spite of incentives for interdisciplinary collaboration. In the shadow of these contributions, specific knowledge for urban planning has developed through history, and probably before the   4 French word «urbanisme» [6] first appeared in 1910. These contributions constitute a patrimony, a volume of really important assets for the construction of the identity of those who deal with urban issues. Although these contributions were formulated by those not only interested in understanding the city, but also in transforming it, the authors have also made an important contribution to universal knowledge The knowledge of urban agglomerations is essential to the practice of urban planning. This knowledge is concerned with «urbanization» and especially the spatial organization of urban development. This subject is also of interest to geography. However, in addition to sharing with geography this «object» of knowledge (as being understood by the positive sciences) urban planning is also defined as a discipline having an unquestioned relation with architecture and civil engineering, and as a professional activity (  praxis – action vs. poïesis – production ) aimed at mastering urban development, by subjecting the transformation processes of the built environment into configurations that will better serve society. Hence, urban planning has a normative role: it starts with the scientific study of urban spaces by highlighting their dynamics and trends. In addition, urban planning proposes projects that are simulation-tested. Today, it is not sufficient for these projects to be functionally and technically feasible because they also have to be socially acceptable and ecologically sustainable. Consequently, a body of doctrines and theories has been formulated in urban planning not only to comprehend urbanization processes but also to conceive human-made objects. This body of knowledge and know-how shares common ground with other kinds of knowledge. However, it separates itself from them when the goals are not exactly the same. Today, a body of knowledge and know-how actually exists in urban planning. Moreover, it continues to enrich itself. It partakes of an accumulated ensemble of empirical research and theoretical constructs which are the common background of the discipline, produced by the discipline without preventing others from using this background [7] 1 . In the future, the key question is not to establish if the contributions meet the standards of a science (which differ from a non-science), but to see how a specific contribution adds something to current knowledge about human settlements, and their production from a specific point of view. The small part of « ideology » [8] pillorying any contribution is out of place. Today, it is often admitted that the field of knowledge, which involves the human being, is characterised by the uncertainty inherent in the intelligence and freedom of the « homo erraticus » [9]. Consequently, contributions may induce analysis and statements which cannot be repeated without a minimum of critical vigilance and adaptation of the methods of the so called «hard» or «exact» sciences. The Inventory of the Patrimony: The need for epistemological work Given that urban planners have been trained in miscellaneous disciplines, they have not always been concerned with inventorying those elements which justify a new branch of shared 1  Let us quote only one work : "The Image of the city" by Kevin Lynch. It is, doubtless, one of the best examples of this reference literature, used by other disciplines, such as geography. However geographers do not exploit all the aspects, especially the practice of urban composition founded on the «imageability» of the city.   5 knowledge and which may be a common ground for all those concerned by urban issues. This shortcoming is regrettable given that urban planners stress the multidisciplinarity of their work, while they co-operate with experts from other domains, and they often consider themselves to be specialists only in the discipline they initially studied. The multidisciplinarity quality of urban planning appears, does not seem achievable by individuals. Only working groups of urban planning actions seem to guarantee multidisciplinarity. Indeed, the breadth of the mobilised knowledge in the planning practice demonstrates that it is not sensible for one single person to hold this immense body of knowledge. However, there is another way to interpret multidisciplinarity, which does not exclude specialization at all. This is precisely by transdisciplinarity: being open to other disciplinary knowledge and know-how. Transdisciplinary approaches can rework specialised knowledge in order to readdress urban issues in a pertinent way. Among urban planners each is more or less an economist, or an engineer, or a sociologist, or an architect, or a lawyer contributing efficiently and relevantly to a common construction of the inventory of urban planning theory. Without doubt, the formulation of this inventory requires an undeniable effort of «self awareness». How can one succeed without checking the literature and the realisations which punctuate this inventory, and list the achievements, or the assets and failures, or the overlaps, while raising questions? Research in urban planning should contribute to this inventory. Urban planners are in an excellent position to offer relevant and srcinal interpretations concerning all sets of themes. They can identify what renders their contributions unique and essential. The task of identifying and inventorying, requires in-depth epistemological work, like the contribution of Françoise Choay in 1965 [8]. This contribution provides the opportunity for urban planning to situate itself, and to measure the evolution of a discipline which has significantly been renewing itself for almost fifty years now. The credit of Choay's contribution (which doubtless had a greater impact in France than in the Anglo-Saxon countries) is to have re-evaluated a memory of modern urban planning since its srcin, by favouring the rediscovery of trends, which has been forgotten, largely owing to the hegemony of the functionalist urban planning, embodied by Le Corbusier. Meanwhile, since Choay denounced the ideological character and the illusory scientific ambition of urban planning, she applied a scientific conception aligned with the positive vision inherited from 19th Century. Prigogine’s thoughts [10], developed after those of Monod in 1970 [11], shook this conception by cultivating suspicion about domains of knowledge in which human beings and society were introduced to a greater or lesser degree. Even framed by some structure, human freedom did not lead to the precise definition of immutable « laws », as far the human domain is concerned. The so called « exact » sciences began to realise what they owed to the laboratory setting [2]. Uncertainty became the regime of the new sciences [12] and, within this context, urban planning was considered without these suspicions which disqualified it from the positive science point of view. The teleological aim (in opposition to the objectivity that characterises fundamental research) was also challenged, and the multidisciplinary character, which refutes the
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