The relationship between planning knowledge and policy action in the public domain may radically vary according to the paradigm one refers to (Friedmann, 1987). Technical and scientific knowledge can be seen as the main (in extreme cases, the only) source for public decision making, or, on the contrary, as (an eventual) confirmation of the orientations emerging from society. In all possible declinations, this tension between technical reason and democratic self-governance cannot be underestimated, though - to cut a never-ending theoretical debate short - the conception of societal organization and the ways in which public action is carried out is crucial in framing this tension. For example, in neoclassical liberal views of development, knowledge is diffused and due to its complexity cannot be controlled by technocrats and masterminds. Limited regulation is expected to enhance spontaneously emergent orders and to work better than planning (Moroni, 2007). In these liberal perspectives, technocracy has little space in theory, but perhaps it manifests itself quite extensively in contemporary planning practice of so-called liberal countries. On the contrary, substantial power in decision-making and centralized control over implementation may imply that rulers and technocrats decide on the basis of what they, alone, are supposed to know. But, in reality, plans and projects are adjusted during the implementation process, according to multiple views and non-technical knowledge. If one looks at planning cultures (Sanyal 2005), rational-choice and the hope in all-seeing and science-based decisions were and still are relevant, not only in Western countries, but especially in countries that are undergoing strong industrialization or modernization pushes. Of course, these are general conceptions and orientations, but we now know, at least with reference to urban planning and design, that practice and local processes of development are more complicated in practice than in theory (Palermo and Ponzini, 2015). It is therefore important to see in practice the influential conceptions and the way in which planning works in real-world processes, in rapidly transforming cities as well as in the slower Western countries. In public debates, it is recurrent to find assumptions linking the work of architects and planners to the economic performances of given cities. In particular, large-scale projects and innovative solutions are intended as an opportunity for the production (via real estate appreciation) and redistribution of wealth among citizens, in terms of new infrastructures, public facilities, employment, etc. (Logan and Molotch, 1987). International architects and urban designers are considered to be crucial for creating new urban projects and more generally for growth. Indeed, transnational firms tend to provide complex packages of design and planning services that reassure investors and politicians, often by elaborating positive narratives such as the sustainable or smart city. Tim Bunnel (2015) explained how cities tend to generate policies by using antecedent cases in terms of prototypical examples, hierarchical imaginaries of other (highly-ranked) cities, paradigmatic and successful city models. Real estate investors tend to duplicate projects and packages of investments that have proven to be feasible and to generate adequate returns. This often includes similar building typologies, or diagrams for master plans. Public opinion and the media seem more interested in the narratives (or the technologies, or the esthetics, or the renderings, or the persona) than the actual urban projects. In this way, solutions are more and more often depicted as merely technical matters, de-politicized and privatized by developers or ad hoc local planning agencies. Descending from their specialized knowledge and the charisma of their principals, transnational firms tend to provide complex packages of services They have grown into multinationals with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of employees and they work in multiple cities sharing the same standardized knowledge, technologies and, most importantly, similar planning and design solutions that are ostensibly replicable. It has become more and more common to expect world-famous “archistars” and “urbanistars” to design not only “iconic” or spectacular pieces of architecture, but also to outline the master plans for infrastructure hubs, corporate headquarters and institutional compounds or university campuses (Ponzini and Nastasi, 2016). Similarly, other sorts of large-scale development projects have resorted to branding for building political consensus and media visibility. According to the work of Leslie Sklair, iconic and spectacular architecture has been serving contemporary forms of globalized capitalism to proliferate and fuel the rhetoric of inter-urban economic competition (Sklair, 2010 and 2012). Ong (2011) suggests that iconic projects (so-called hyperbuildings) tend to represent the political elite in power. While we know from history that the technical, political and institutional conditions allow quite mixed applications of planning solutions, far from their original conceptions (Ward, 2000), one should try to see in practice what it means to leave the decisions to technocrats, urban planners and designers. By investigating critical examples of one firm which now works in multiple continents (namely Foster+Partners), this chapter shows that transnational firms can operate in autocratic countries, transferring similar narratives and design solutions, eventually making use of the specificities of given urban places in rhetorical or instrumental ways. This serves pro-growth local players as well as other transnational actors involved. However, the observation of practice helps explain that, in the end, the local context inevitably affects the process, form, outcome and meaning of projects. Despite the fact that it is not possible to generalize such behaviors, it seems nonetheless important to understand these transnational strategies and their implications for local planning in Asian countries as well as in the West.

Transnational design and local implications for planning: Project flights and landings

d. ponzini
2019

Abstract

The relationship between planning knowledge and policy action in the public domain may radically vary according to the paradigm one refers to (Friedmann, 1987). Technical and scientific knowledge can be seen as the main (in extreme cases, the only) source for public decision making, or, on the contrary, as (an eventual) confirmation of the orientations emerging from society. In all possible declinations, this tension between technical reason and democratic self-governance cannot be underestimated, though - to cut a never-ending theoretical debate short - the conception of societal organization and the ways in which public action is carried out is crucial in framing this tension. For example, in neoclassical liberal views of development, knowledge is diffused and due to its complexity cannot be controlled by technocrats and masterminds. Limited regulation is expected to enhance spontaneously emergent orders and to work better than planning (Moroni, 2007). In these liberal perspectives, technocracy has little space in theory, but perhaps it manifests itself quite extensively in contemporary planning practice of so-called liberal countries. On the contrary, substantial power in decision-making and centralized control over implementation may imply that rulers and technocrats decide on the basis of what they, alone, are supposed to know. But, in reality, plans and projects are adjusted during the implementation process, according to multiple views and non-technical knowledge. If one looks at planning cultures (Sanyal 2005), rational-choice and the hope in all-seeing and science-based decisions were and still are relevant, not only in Western countries, but especially in countries that are undergoing strong industrialization or modernization pushes. Of course, these are general conceptions and orientations, but we now know, at least with reference to urban planning and design, that practice and local processes of development are more complicated in practice than in theory (Palermo and Ponzini, 2015). It is therefore important to see in practice the influential conceptions and the way in which planning works in real-world processes, in rapidly transforming cities as well as in the slower Western countries. In public debates, it is recurrent to find assumptions linking the work of architects and planners to the economic performances of given cities. In particular, large-scale projects and innovative solutions are intended as an opportunity for the production (via real estate appreciation) and redistribution of wealth among citizens, in terms of new infrastructures, public facilities, employment, etc. (Logan and Molotch, 1987). International architects and urban designers are considered to be crucial for creating new urban projects and more generally for growth. Indeed, transnational firms tend to provide complex packages of design and planning services that reassure investors and politicians, often by elaborating positive narratives such as the sustainable or smart city. Tim Bunnel (2015) explained how cities tend to generate policies by using antecedent cases in terms of prototypical examples, hierarchical imaginaries of other (highly-ranked) cities, paradigmatic and successful city models. Real estate investors tend to duplicate projects and packages of investments that have proven to be feasible and to generate adequate returns. This often includes similar building typologies, or diagrams for master plans. Public opinion and the media seem more interested in the narratives (or the technologies, or the esthetics, or the renderings, or the persona) than the actual urban projects. In this way, solutions are more and more often depicted as merely technical matters, de-politicized and privatized by developers or ad hoc local planning agencies. Descending from their specialized knowledge and the charisma of their principals, transnational firms tend to provide complex packages of services They have grown into multinationals with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of employees and they work in multiple cities sharing the same standardized knowledge, technologies and, most importantly, similar planning and design solutions that are ostensibly replicable. It has become more and more common to expect world-famous “archistars” and “urbanistars” to design not only “iconic” or spectacular pieces of architecture, but also to outline the master plans for infrastructure hubs, corporate headquarters and institutional compounds or university campuses (Ponzini and Nastasi, 2016). Similarly, other sorts of large-scale development projects have resorted to branding for building political consensus and media visibility. According to the work of Leslie Sklair, iconic and spectacular architecture has been serving contemporary forms of globalized capitalism to proliferate and fuel the rhetoric of inter-urban economic competition (Sklair, 2010 and 2012). Ong (2011) suggests that iconic projects (so-called hyperbuildings) tend to represent the political elite in power. While we know from history that the technical, political and institutional conditions allow quite mixed applications of planning solutions, far from their original conceptions (Ward, 2000), one should try to see in practice what it means to leave the decisions to technocrats, urban planners and designers. By investigating critical examples of one firm which now works in multiple continents (namely Foster+Partners), this chapter shows that transnational firms can operate in autocratic countries, transferring similar narratives and design solutions, eventually making use of the specificities of given urban places in rhetorical or instrumental ways. This serves pro-growth local players as well as other transnational actors involved. However, the observation of practice helps explain that, in the end, the local context inevitably affects the process, form, outcome and meaning of projects. Despite the fact that it is not possible to generalize such behaviors, it seems nonetheless important to understand these transnational strategies and their implications for local planning in Asian countries as well as in the West.
Planning and Knowledge How New Forms of Technocracy Are Shaping Contemporary Cities
9781447345244
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