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Sustainable Development as a Political and Professional Challenge

Question:

How do you perceive the possibility for public planning for sustainable development? What are the main problems and obstacles and what are the possibilities and prospects?

Answer:

According to the Brundtland Report, Sustainable Development may be defined as a way of development by which the present needs can be met without giving up on the potential of future generations to meet their need for resources. The BR developed a vision to reinforce economic growth, improve the environment, stabilize population, peace, and global equity simultaneously. The BR also developed three pillars (or E's) of Sustainable Development:

  • Environmental
  • Economic
  • Social( or Equity)

The goal of sustainable development is to successfully bring about a sustainable change in urban communities and to build or reinforce sustainability's features of economic, cultural, social, and environmental city (Brundtland Report). After the industrial revolution, there came an urban trend that led to the evolution of studies related to economic development which resulted in the emergence of global cities all around the world. This trend of urbanization has become so common nowadays that it has finally resulted in making an urban world. However, with the emergence of this trend, some major problems have also been posed on the environment and life on earth. That is the main reason behind the introduction of sustainable development on the agenda of different organizations, institutions, and governments. Many studies have been done on a sustainable development field that suggests how to introduce the concept and its features and how to finally implement it.

A study was conducted by Ahmadi & Toghyani(2011), which aimed to discuss the elements of sustainable development and the planning tools for achieving urban sustainable development. 

According to Ahmadi & Toghyani(2011), there are few principles on which the urban development strategies are focused. These are also called the five dimensions of sustainable development:

  1. Economic stability, defined as a result of efficiently allocated and managed resources and regular flow of both private and governmental investment.
  2. Social sustainability can be defined as designing a process for developing such that its continuance is dependent on some other growth. The objective is to create a human society in which assets and earnings are fairly distributed which reduces the gap between rich and poor.
  3. Ecological sustainability could be reinforced by putting a limit on the use of fuel and decreasing the wastes and pollution.
  4. The sustainable spatial development to ensure better distribution of land from the view of human settlement.
  5. The cultural continuity which means to find new farming systems and processes to bring some changes in the cultural continuity.

The study results of Ahmadi & Toghyani (2011) suggest that Urban planning plays a major role in urban sustainable development. The main aim of urban sustainable development is to successfully attain sustainability status in urban communities. There exists an extraordinary relationship between human activities and the natural and artificial environment. Therefore, it becomes essential to match urban development goals with sustainable planning methods. To ensure consistency between these issues and sustainable development, different strategies, methods, and tools must be used (Ahmadi & Toghyani, 2011).

Sustainable urban development must ensure the continuous growth of biodiversity of the city by protecting them and sustainably using natural resources. This would lead to the conservation of natural resources for future generations and promote the quality of life for the present as well as future life. The study conclusions indicated that there is a need for some structural reforms and to design some changes at all levels of society and especially in the three levels of 'government and management', 'technology' and 'methods of life' (Ahmadi & Toghyani, 2011).

As per Ahmadi & Toghyani(2011), some key issues are there which are closely related to the sustainable development concept. The key issues include the theories and ideas of sustainable development and the history of sustainable development.

As per International Young Nature Friends, Due to the rapid growth in population, there will be more resource requirements in the future and the resources that we are using today are not all renewable. Therefore, the industries need to ensure that rare metals such as Palladium which is used in consumer electronics must be preserved (Rodwin, 2017).

The author highlighted the significance of sustainable development and discussed that sustainable development requires a lot of effort and brings some major challenges that are introduced in the process. It must be noted that both developing as well as developed countries need to have sustainable development. Although the developed countries have progressed and developed, this does not mean that they are sustainable. For developed countries, it is important to solve the problems related to social inequalities, waste management, and the responsibility of the environment. The main challenges and issues that come in the way of sustainable development are:

  • Scarcity of financial resources for designing and implementing a sustainable development plan.
  • As per IYNF, it is not possible in the countries which have been devastated by war as these countries have different priorities.
  • Some natural calamities such as earthquakes and tsunamis can restrict sustainability as they destroy the infrastructure through the flow of water.

(In 2015, the only source of water for the people of the village of Ramche in Nepal, was destroyed by an earthquake. The people had to face a lot of difficulties as it led to the water crisis and the people started spending on bottled water in many areas of Nepal where there was a water crisis. People also started to use infected water for drinking and cooking purposes. There has been a threat to the existing sustainable infrastructure in Southeast and East Asia due to tsunamis.)(IYNF)

  • There has been an on-going conflict between immediate profit and investment towards sustainable technologies. (To win miners' votes in Poland, the government had been providing more finances to the mining sector instead of moving ahead towards adopting sustainable sources of energy.)(IYNF)
  • Corruption (The funds are provided to developing countries through foreign grants. The majority of foreign grants for Nepal came from the UK. However, due to the existing corruption and bureaucratic policies in Nepal, the ministers as well as the government are required to be paid to pass a certain development project. This leads to the slowdown of NGO processes.)(IYNF)
  • The efforts at the municipal level are very less.

There are different circumstances faced by developing countries to achieve sustainable development (Jepson Jr, & Edwards, 2010, pp417-437). However, with a lot of effort and concentration, it is possible to achieve sustainable development. If there would have been appropriate policies on education and vocational programmes, it would have been possible to drop illiteracy rates and made people more aware of their environment and the surroundings they live in. This would contribute significantly to raise environmental awareness (Rodwin, 2017). Adding to it, the author concluded that the government must be able to make the environment a priority and measure the growth of green GDP instead of using usual methods to measure GDP (Jepson Jr, & Edwards, 2010). It must use its budget wisely and invest green energies, health services, and benefits systems. The article clearly described that it is possible to achieve sustainable development only if everyone is dedicated to achieving it.

Question:

Considering your insights from the course literature, lectures, and seminars, how do you perceive of the 'good planner'? Discuss this in relation to planners' code of ethics and values of sustainable development as well as different planner types and roles.

Answer:

In the article by Bollens(2002), the author examined the roles and responsibilities of planners while facing issues related to race and ethnicity. The author discusses the planners' way of thinking and acting when they are working in ethically or racially polarized societies. The study was conducted by taking the interviews of over 100 urban planners from the cities of Belfast, Jerusalem, and Johannesburg. The case study included four urban planning strategies (Bollens, 2004).

The author came to certain conclusions after the study.

  • Planning is not resistant to just being used to fulfill the objectives of building the city which is fundamentally in conflict with professional ethics.

Planners can make use of planning for discriminatory purposes in a way which aggravates conflicts between different ethnic groups, brings in a situation of instability in urban areas, and generates illogical needs for further discrimination due to the unfavorable effects on relations between groups (Bollens, 2004). In Jerusalem and apartheid Johannesburg, the planners of the public sector had acted as the government agents who even after having their doubts use to do whatever was expected out of them by their employer. The circumstances of institution and organization restricted the choice of planner and they were being provided with incentives for working while sticking to the goals of building the city based on political benefits (Bollens, 2004).

  • Neutral planning is seen as safe but is both insufficient and tough to implement in urban circumstances where different group values and trajectories prevail.

When neutral planning was applied to the prevailing inequality settings in urban areas, it did not lead to the production of fair outcomes. In the Belfast case, it is demonstrated that the urban policy does not consider the different quantitative as well as qualitative needs of the groups. This would further lead to strengthen and not minimize the existing inequalities in urban areas. There is a need for the government to stop being comfortable and act as an outsider in case of conflicts due to ethnicities and race. When there is a situation of inequalities between different ethnic and racial groups, then it is not required to replicate the policy for each known urban group not there is a need to balance the government outputs among them. Rather, it means that the policies must be made keeping in mind the needs of each community and should also consider the betterment of the whole city (Bollens, 2004).

  • Planners must seek the correlative feasibility of both the ethnic and racial groups present at any place. In each of the cases of disputed cities, the proposition to leave behind ethnic spatial separation face depicts as promoting an impractical pro-integration agenda. Although, there must exist a middle approach in such conditions to nurturing the intergroup liberality in the urban regions. The main objective of the must not be integration per se, but it must be to build a "porous" society. This means everyone in such a society must have the right to interact if they want and diversities must be able to exist with each other. The goal of the urban policy must be to accommodate and not focus majorly on assimilation. The urban planner must focus on the color and ethnicity and consider it instead of ignoring it and must always try to serve the needs of each ethnic group (Bollens, 2004).
  • The professional repertoire of the planner must incorporate different aspects such as the social and psychological aspects of communities.

The urban ethnic group members may have their psychological needs related to the identity of their groups, and culture which may be as crucial for them as the needs related to housing, land, and other economic opportunities. This has been clearly explained in the case of Belfast who thinks that to bring peace in the region, they have been making too much efforts and have been sacrificing a lot in the process. Urban planning must be oriented towards the use of rational and objective methods and should consider all the technical and subjective aspects of identities of different communities (Bollens, 2004). Urban planners must consider the importance of community identity, territoriality, and symbolism in its tools and methodologies of decision making and analysis.

  • The planner’s education and training must be revised and redesigned so that the planners can address ethnic or racial issues more effectively.

The education and training provided to the planner students must be redesigned to ensure that future professional planners can deal with the complicated issues related to ethnic differences. In the case study, the planners of Israel are not able to redesign the methods and objectives as they are restricted due to political issues, while the planes of Belfast are sensitive towards the ethnic issues but they are not too open about addressing them publicly. In Johannesburg, the planners are undergoing introspection between the need to balance government rules and regulations and the community mobilization. The author identified some topics which must be taught to the planners to make them more effective. The topics include spatial segmentation, ethnic identity formation, the differences between ethnicities and races, and different cultures existing in urban areas.

  • Planners need to be able to successfully face and overcome the challenges posed by different cultures using the social learning processes and not through the use of certain defined methods.

In the urban cities, there is the existence of several different cultures, so in such cases, the planning profession must not deal with issues using the professional aspects but the planners should engage in social interaction with the people belonging to different cultural groups. This will help the planners to incorporate and learn about their differing values and visions which can then be used in planning the city. The planners of Postapartheid Johannesburg are engaged in social learning and working to use human development aspects in their planning along with the traditional and regulatory aspects of planning. The Belfast planners make use of methodological experimentation while keeping it private and Israeli planners are very eager to adapt the change which will be possible only when there will be less political tensions.

  • The planner must plan and keep in mind the conditions related to spatial, social, psychological and economic aspects. In this way, a planner can effectively address the local situations of a society that has different people with different attitudes, ethnicity, and race.

There are certain attributes of the urban system such as the feasibility of ethnic neighborhoods, economic opportunity, socio-economic integration, and illustration of culture which are affected by the planners in a way that can lead to hindrance in a mutually tolerable environment which includes many ethnicities. In such cases, the policies of the city make a lot of difference. The policies of Jerusalem have increased the situation or urban instability by strengthening the relative deprivation of certain groups. In Belfast, the division of the city into sections has been done due to its emphasis on reducing conflicts by keeping the situation under control.

  • The planner must work on making such plans that can connect urban issues to root societal problems.

From the case of Johannesburg, it is clear that connections may be formed between the urban issues and day to day problems of the city and how they can be connected to the political issues. Similarly, this connectivity can be seen in Belfast between urban and national issues. The decision-makers must consider the approval of local parties which are more confident in building intergroup tolerance and what means are required to bring peace by making these efforts.

This connection between the national and urban area issues are also seen in the United States. It has been seen that the structuring of metropolitan areas includes spatial components that are compliant to the planning policy. These connect to the root problems in the society which may include inequality of opportunity, a polarized democracy, and ethnic or racial issues. For instance, urban segregation based on ethnic and racial aspects has observed penetrating effects such as they lead to inequality of opportunity which has an effect on the democracy of America for a long time.

To become a certified planner, one must follow a certain professional code of ethics in most of countries. However, when professional ethics are applied in the planning process, it leads to many problems. One of the issues is that if planners are involved in the private sectors as is the case of most of the planners, do they still need to be loyal with the public at large? The planners are not clear about who they should work for, whether for clients, or the consulting firms they are working for, the people, or selected groups of people in the region. According to Fainstein, & DeFilippis(2015), the confirmed underestimation of costs and overestimation of profits by the planning consultants who were involved in mega-projects involved failure from professional ethics. But the question arises that why should a private entity serve any other people other than its owners? And, why the private entities are expected to behave like the public ones? (Fainstein, & DeFilippis, 2015)

Secondly, the planners have to deal with uncertainty. Planning is done for the future and is based on predictions. But as per the author, the future involves a lot of uncertainty and no one can fully predict the future results of today's actions. When the available empirical information is limited, then the values and expectations play their role and help to shape and draw out meanings from the available information. However, the planner obtains his values from families, cultures as well as communities in which he must have been born and brought up apart from the values he learns from planning schools and planning certification programmes (Fainstein, & DeFilippis, 2015).

Thirdly, planning involves various complicated decisions to be taken by the planner as it is not limited but extends beyond the technical activities. It involves the challenges related to social, economic, and environmental aspects of society. There are situations of a clash between the values of equality, diversity, democracy within society. As planners need to make decisions regarding the objectives of economic development, social justice, and protection of the environment, the conflicts arise due to the choices that planner makes (Fainstein, & DeFilippis, 2015). Although sustainable development is desirable for the long term, these three goals to be achieved have created a tense situation between the planners and the worlds as well as also within planning.

Lastly, the planner's role is to be "experts" which raises some unavoidable ethical questions. The questions that arise are related to the proper balance between expertise and citizen input in issues such as siting of highways and the facilities of waste disposal when there is a situation in which a specific social group must pay for more social benefits that they receive(Fainstein, & DeFilippis, 2015). The utilitarian system of ethics is usually followed by the planners while utilitarianism has been evaluated for a long time for its undermining of distributional issues. Therefore, the planners' assertion to expertise includes some judgements based on values while simultaneously keeping these values from being known in a cloak of objectivity and rationality. The ethical issues related to the duties of experts can be mostly seen when the planners calculate risks by putting up monetary value on the life of humans (Fainstein, & DeFilippis, 2015).

The planning theory is all about the interest of the public. As stated by The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) that “our primary obligation is to serve the public interest.” However, in planning, the planners always faces a dispute about whether there exists some public interest and if it does then whether the planners can recognize it and work to achieve it. It is claimed by incremental planners that due to complexities the public interest seems to be unrealistic, while it is being argmented by the advocate planners that the things that are shown as public interest are just the interests of the privileged.

The planners possess a set of values whose foundation lies on belief in the public interest. This includes equality in terms of preservation and opportunity, space of public and welfare of public.

The main provocation is to make these elements that serve public interest, consistent with one another with the diverse set of people coming from different communities and live side by side. To overcome this dilemma, the author looked at the common ideas of rationality and social justice. The planners act as communicators rather than as thinkers and reflect an effort to create a modified planning theory based on the interest of the public. Using this approach, planners accept that there are multiple interests of the public with some common public interest, and based on this they try to come out with viable politically legalized solutions (Schmiz, & Kitzmann, 2017, pp1-10). Planners try to serve the public interest by working out a type of multicultural, technically informed diversity.

Lastly, the topic of public interest is a matter of debate to define theory of planning. The main job of planners is to consider public interest in their planning to serve people in suburbs, cities and countryside. The questions related to when, how and why the planners must get involved and the difficulties they face in the process, all help in defining and serving the public interest even if it is static(Schmiz, & Kitzmann, 2017, pp1-10). There is some restructuring in the urban economy and the boundaries between the public and privates sectors have shifted, there have been effects due to information technology and availability of tools and resources constantly enable the planners to think about the public interest again. This regular thinking is the main task of planning theory.

References for Urban Planning and Intergroup Conflict

Ahmadi, F., & Toghyani, S. (2011). The role of urban planning in achieving sustainable urban development. OIDA International Journal of Sustainable Development, 2(11), 23-26.

Bollens, S. (2004). Urban planning and intergroup conflict: Confronting a fractured public interest. Dialogues in urban and regional planning, 1, 209.

Fainstein, S. S., & DeFilippis, J. (Eds.). (2015). Readings in planning theory. John Wiley & Sons

International Young Nature Friends(IYNF). (n.d.). Sustainable Development and its Challenges in Developing Countries. Retrieved from http://www.iynf.org/2018/08/a-guide-to-sustainable-development-and-its-challenges-in-developing-countries/

Jepson Jr, E. J., & Edwards, M. M. (2010). How possible is sustainable urban development? An analysis of planners' perceptions about new urbanism, smart growth, and the ecological city. Planning Practice & Research, 25(4), 417-437.

Rodwin, L. (2017). The Profession of City Planning: Changes, Images, and Challenges: 1950-200. Routledge.

Schmiz, A., & Kitzmann, R. (2017). Negotiating an Asiatown in Berlin: Ethnic diversity in urban planning. Cities, 70, 1-10.

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