The Pendulum Shifts: Expertise in Planning Is Now Suspect

Thinking grass roots empowerment makes expertise unnecessary is not a return to traditional placemaking. It's just a new take on business as usual, argues Scott Doyon.
May 7, 2013, 8am PDT | Hazel Borys
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"Recently a colleague and friend in the broader placemaking game made a provocative pronouncement via social media: 'A community can design their own neighborhood better than outside experts.'

"Uh-oh. I get the sentiment. The Modernist revolution, especially as it relates to community planning, ushered in a new era of specialist experts...Perhaps if it had all been a smashing success we’d feel differently but, today, we’re coming up on roughly 75 years worth of built evidence that the Modernist revolution — which, incidentally, was a course correction of 180 degrees — has failed."

"For several decades now, wiser minds have been hard at work unearthing the wisdom of how to build endearing and resilient places and those efforts are now paying off. We’re restoring time-tested models and field-testing new ones, and the practice of placemaking is once again emerging as a people-centric process."

"Unfortunately, that’s where things get messy. Because, as we rediscover the value of grass-roots participation, we’re confusing getting back to the base with tossing out the experts. And a whole new, 180-degree course correction is looming."

Doyon goes on to contemplate how complete bottom-up planning fails just as much as a fully top-down approach failed in the past. Don't toss out the planning expert, he suggests. Instead, meet in the middle.

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Published on Monday, May 6, 2013 in PlaceShakers
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