on the necessity of subjectivity

I’ve struggled with the concept of the “Science of Planning”, the title of the Masters degree that I received. It gives me the sense that there exists some sort of body of knowledge that represents the objective optimalization of cities, that urban planners collectively agree on working towards.

In reality, the making of cities is an absolute power struggle shit show.

The current form of the city reflects the subjective actions of every person that lived and worked in the city before you. Subjectivity is necessary because we’re trying to make decisions that intrinsically have no right answer. Do we dedicate a space to cars, or pedestrians? Allow one home, or 100 homes? Do we fund new highways, or new transit? And anyone with enough power and clout can come and affect change in the city, even if it only benefits the few, and is to the disadvantage of many.

The city is the arena where our most important values duke it out.

Further, the city is a representation of our societal values.

Therefore, there is no such thing as neutrality in planning.

This means that as urban planners, we should acknowledge that our tools and principles are biased.

We must know the values that result from our recommendations and decision-making. 

Every vote for or against a change to the city is an endorsement to something.

And maybe it shouldn’t be the “Science” but the “Political Art” of planning.

Originally posted on Substack

Original title: On Subjectivity – And the necessity to engage on this messy level

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