Education for participation in planning is not education about aesthetics, or about cost-benefits or central place theory, it is education about power
For seemingly no reason I had no time to write this month and, instead, I read a lot.
The title of this post comes from this article, Architects are drifting away from democracy that a friend of mine – a woman and an architect that I admire very much – shared today on fb.
The article highlights an aspect of the profession of architects and planners, that I have often experimented on my skin: “Civilian interference in the design process Is not Exactly Welcomed by the profession”says the author.
I would add that having democratic opinions, like believing that the results of a good architecture are not just in the developer/city’s income or in the number of people who visit it, but also in its degree of “accessibility” (who are those who will visit/use that specific architecture? women or men? children? poor families? or only rich families? disabled? is it an open space that can be inhabited or also crossed from animals? is it a space that can be used as a “learning environment” for schools or does it help developing our physical or mental abilities?) is not welcomed at all in professions.
How many of you reading this post, if you are a professional (except for those in the field of humanitarian aid or medicine, maybe) were ever addressed with this kind of statements? “To turn down or to question a job for ethical/ecological reasons is not professional. To question the economic reasons of a project for the ecological ones, is not sustainable”.
Well, it happened to me several times. “Someone else will do it if you don’t and will probably do it worse. Compromise is part of the profession” is the psychological trap of those who bring forward the general dominant thought of “getting things done” and the logic of economic profit as a measure of success for anything. I usually do accept the challenge and try in every way (often secretly) to bring both the customer and the design on sustainability goals, but I am aware that once you accept certain initial conditions you will not be able to achieve certain results, if not quite very limited: a “compromise” precisely.
The theories of sustainability are finally questioning this model, but even these often do not stress enough the aspects of social sustainability, justice and especially of the “right to participation” that are implicit in the idea of environmental sustainability.
And what about the architects, not to mention the archistars (the planners less)? Often they dodge completely the moral/civic question perhaps because they believe that the scale at which they work does not affect the large systems, and instead it does: this is the meaning of the theory of systems.
Professor Francesco Indovina of the IUAV University of Venice, likes to say that “the city is the ecological niche of human being” and I love this quote because it sums up the attitude of care and attention that we should put in designing our cities, an attitude that should be proactive, as Jeff Bishop says, to take in serious consideration the political implications of designing places.
Rittel H., Webber M. “Dilemmas of general planning theory”, 1973
Indovina F. “La città sostenibile: sosteniamo la città”, «Archivi di studi urbani e regionali», 2003, 77, p. 12