Shun-ichi J. Watanabe *
SEARCHING FOR THE FRAMEWORK FOR A "WORLD HISTORY" OF PLANNING
Thank you, President Ward. Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
I am deeply honoured to have been asked to give this lecture commemorating the great Professor Gordon E. Cherry. First of all, for those who remember Gordon so well and for those who do not know him, let me introduce the late Professor Gordon E. Cherry.
He was not only such an outstanding authority in planning history, but also one of the founding fathers of this association, and always demonstrated great academic leadership. From the first time I attended this conference, Gordon always made a special effort to help and guide me, as a participant from outside the Western world. Further, when we held the Third International Planning History Conference in Tokyo in 1988 in order to begin to ‘internationalise’ planning history, Gordon helped to make the conference a success by consenting to be our adviser and contributing his leadership. Standing here on this platform, I remember him so vividly that I can scarcely express to you my sadness that he is not here with us tonight.
Just exactly a quarter century ago, I attended the first International Planning History Conference held in 1977 at Bedford College in Regent’s Park. The themes of the papers were: the English Town Planning Act of 1909, German Town Expansion methods, the American City Beautiful Movement, et cetera. As a young visitor from the Far East who knew of these wonderful cases only from textbooks, I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven to hear them spoken of by those who were the foremost researchers in the field. As almost all the participants were from Britain, the US, and Germany, I had the strong feeling that ‘Wow, this is not an “international” planning history conference, this is a “NATO” planning history conference!’
Now we are here at the 10th conference. Apart from the fifth conference in Richmond, Virginia, I have attended and presented a paper at each event. I am sorry to say that with Gordon not attending, I may have inherited the distinction of being the ‘World Champion’ in conference attendance. I am thinking that soon I will have to apply to the Guinness Book of World Records.
From ‘International History’ to ‘World History’
Since this association was established in 1993, I have been the only council member from outside the Western bloc. My academic mission has been to turn this association into a truly ‘international’ one. But what does that really mean? Let me ask you a couple of questions.
First, ‘Is it part of international planning history if we discuss historically important planning cases of different countries at an international conference?’ My answer is: ‘No, a mere international accumulation of national histories does not make international history.’
Second, ‘How about the research on such internationally famous planning cases as Garden Cities and New Urbanism?’ My answer is: ‘No, they are only the history of internationally famous planning attainments.’
Third, ‘How about the history of international exchange of planning ideas and techniques?’ My answer is: ‘Partly YES.’ It is my belief that in order to create real ‘international history’ it is not enough simply to work from the ‘bottom up’ of case studies from each separate country, but it is also clearly necessary to work ‘top down’ from the viewpoint of the whole ‘world history’.
The Worldwide Diffusion of Modern Western Urban Planning
I believe that there is a very strong bias towards Western Europe and North America in this association. The reason for it lies in the fact of the worldwide diffusion of what we call ‘modern Western urban planning.’ At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, modern urban planning was developed in England, Germany, the US, and elsewhere, which I call the ‘West’, and since then has spread throughout the world. In this presentation, I roughly include all other areas collectively as the ‘non-West’.
The Western countries were the first in the world to experience the Industrial Revolution and the resulting rapid industrialization and urbanization. Entirely new patterns of urban space such as industrial districts, slums, suburbs, et cetera began to be created. New social classes such as the industrial working class and urban middle class began to emerge. With the rapid and disorderly growth of the industrial cities, serious environmental, social, and residential problems emerged.
The creation of these dreadful inhuman urban environments led in turn to the creation of various methods of public intervention and rational control over private development, which finally created urban planning as a social control technology. This was a reform movement based upon the power of the citizens, and a central theme was the ‘total control of the built environment’. The main battlefield of the reform was in the suburbs, where the middle class with gradually increasing political power sought for the planned development of quality residential areas of their own.
With the spread of international exchanges among the Western countries, this new social technology of urban planning began to spread and to produce a variety of planning legislation, techniques, professional organizations, urban images, and so on.
As we all know, a very important contribution to this flow of ideas was made by Ebenezer Howard with his theory and movement of the Garden City. In Japan, by the way, almost a century has passed since the garden city concept was first introduced in 1905, and planners have not been able to stop thinking about it ever since. This is still the case, as is proven by the tremendous participation in this conference, at which even families are participating - including my four-year-old grandchild.
At the beginning of the 20th century, urban industrialization began to spread throughout the world, and with it modern Western urban planning also spread to the non-West. Therefore, to a greater or lesser degree, the history of modern urban planning in each country worldwide can be seen as the history of the encounter and/or collision of that country's urbanism with modern Western urban planning. In this way it is possible to sketch one part of a ‘world history’ of planning.
In many cases, however, international exchange was fundamentally ‘unidirectional’. In other words, if we are to make a flow diagram, the flow was always ‘from the West to non-West’. In this way the modernist bias that ‘Western and modern is good, and native and pre-modern is bad’ was also spread.
In this situation, Japan’s position was somewhat delicate. From the Japanese standpoint, a two-tier structure was evident. At the world scale, ideas came from the so-called ‘advanced’ West to the ‘delayed’ East Asia as a whole. At the East Asian scale, however, ideas were imposed from Imperial Japan to neighbouring countries during the period before World War II. It pains me greatly to admit this to my fellow researchers from other East Asian countries.
‘Something Worth Knowing’
In international ‘exchanges’ in the past, very little academic interest has been paid to urban planning in the non-West, namely in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which by the way is an area of great concern for the next conference to be held in Barcelona, 2004. But leaving it this way will be unsatisfactory to participants from the non-West and particularly to those from the developing world. If I can say so as an IPHS council member, without an increase of members from the non-West, this meeting surely looks a lot like an exclusive club for planners and historians on the admirable urban planning of the rich Western countries. No matter how you look at it, this does not fit with the thinking of the wise Professor Gordon Cherry.
As for the planning history of the non-West, not much has been published. Of course, in this we researchers from the non-West are also to blame. But it is also the case that Western researchers have not shown as great an interest in our planning history as we have shown in theirs. The Western planners tended to think: ‘Compared with our own “good” cities, what are these “bad” slums in the developing world? It is not possible to have planning history of cities that are nothing but slums.’ In other words, they thought that there is no planning history worthy of knowing in such places. But I would ask: ‘Is this view right?’
In order to think this point through more deeply, I want to pose two questions. First: ‘Is planning history the history of “good” planning only?’ Of course, the answer is NO. Second: ‘Is planning history the history of “all” kinds of planning, namely, a history of “good” AND “bad” planning?’ And of course the answer is YES. For me it is worth knowing both about ‘good’ planning and ‘bad’ planning. The first reason is that it is absolutely necessary to understand the structure of ‘bad’ planning in order to improve it toward ‘good’ planning.
The second reason is that discussing ‘what is “good” planning’ and ‘what is “bad” planning’ would open the possibility of our understanding the social nature of planning. It is important to critically examine the concept of ‘good’ planning of the West, which has been generally considered as the planning model universally applicable in the entire world. What is needed is to understand it not as the ‘absolute’ model but as a particular result of Western history, and to ‘relativise’ it. Such ‘relativity’ of modern Western urban planning is an indispensable necessary precondition for a ‘world history’.
It is probably possible to pursue this way of thinking from the standpoint of Japan. The reason is that 100 years ago Japan was an underdeveloped country in terms of modern planning, and through interaction with modern Western urban planning Japan became a recently developed country. So we can most deeply understand the difficulties of the presently developing countries when illuminated by our own past experience. However, the problem is that, in reality, few know how to progress with such research, and the methodology is not clear. A theory is now needed which would be able to encompass the experiences of both West and non-West, and developed and developing countries.
And so, I want to discuss a theoretical framework from now on. I am afraid that this will probably get pretty theoretical and dense. For all those who find themselves wanting to fall asleep, please go ahead. I believe in the free market where the free choice of consumers is very important. But don't snore too loud; no external diseconomies, please.
Methodology (Theoretical Framework)
Planning World Model
As everyone knows, in general terms the primary purpose of urban planning is to improve the physical conditions of the city or, in a wider sense, of human settlements. In order to do this, urban planning has developed as a social technology of methods of controlling various elements in a planned way. To explain this to such a knowledgeable audience would, in my country, be called ‘Preaching towards Buddha’. I thank you for your endurance, my patient Buddhas.
Here I want to emphasize two points about urban planning. The first is that urban planning is a social technology. The second is that it is quite possible to build cities even without urban planning. So, I would like to propose the following theoretical framework. Before the appearance of modern Western urban planning, the ‘society’ made cities. In other words, if we make a diagram of this, we can establish the relationship between two elements in this way:
This arrangement was artificially interrupted, however, by the third element, the ‘planning system’. This was necessary because the city that the society made became a bad environment, and thus in order to make a more livable city the special device of urban planning was necessary. To represent this we must add the third element to the above two-element diagram, which will look something like this:
It is this planning system that constitutes the technical core element of urban planning, which is the main concern of planning researchers and practitioners alike. The planning system as such includes:
and to guide all of the above, we must have
If we put the planning system at the centre of the ‘planning world’ diagram this way, we can now consider the ‘society’ as the ‘social base’ of the planning system. The ‘social base’ thus defined is the totality of social and historical conditions that support and limit the planning system through various social, political, and cultural channels. Indeed, the way the social base affects the planning system may be viewed as the ‘planning culture’ of a country at a certain time. In other words, it is from this soil of social base that the flowers of the planning system bloom or wither.
Well, what about the ‘city’, which is the output of such a planning system? Generally speaking, modern Western urban planning has dealt with the ‘city’ as the physical or ‘built environment’, not as a non-physical entity.
First, it conceived the ‘city’ as the social system that supports the urban life of people in terms of ‘facilities’ or ‘land uses’. Second, it paid special attention to the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ arrangements of the kind, location, scale, and form of these facilities or land uses. Third, based upon this standpoint, it aimed at generally improving these arrangements. In a word, modern Western urban planning has developed as ‘physical planning’.
In a later development, we could see the growth of two general ideas. The first is that urban planning is no longer limited to merely working toward the purely physical ‘good city’, but is also characterised by an expansion towards broader non-physical social goals such as cities that are environmentally sound and economically vital. The second is that just as the area of activities of urban dwellers expanded, the planned area also expanded from the urban to surrounding suburban areas, and from the urban to regional scales.
With this expansion of the scope and scale of urban planning, in many countries ‘urban’ planning is no longer focused on cities only but on the entire space of the country, and it has become common to simply refer to it as ‘planning’, not ‘urban planning’. In the following the term ‘built environment’ is used instead of ‘city’. Then, let us call the whole fabric of the social base, planning system, and built environment the ‘planning world’.
Finally, it is important to note that the built environment created in one period is incorporated into the society of the next period, and can become a strong part of the social base. Following this logic, the flow diagram of the ‘planning world’ can be completed this way:
‘Comparative Planning’ Methodology
Such a ‘planning world’ takes a different form in each country and each period. Here I define ‘comparative planning’ research as an approach that attempts to get an accurate understanding of the planning world through comparing the similarities and differences of various planning worlds. We can compare the planning world as a whole, its components, or its subcomponents. For example, we can compare:
Let us now turn to the methodology of comparative planning. First, we select, say, the various built environments for comparison, and mutually compare them to clarify their similarities and differences. Here the point is to pay special attention to ‘differences’ rather than ‘similarities’, and begin to draw a picture of precisely ‘HOW different they are’. Next we must explain ‘WHY they are so different’ based upon various factors of the planning system. In case we select planning systems as comparative objects, our explanation must be based upon the social base. By doing so, we can come to a good understanding of the way the built environment is so uniquely and differently affected by the different planning systems, or similarly the planning system affected by the social base.
Points about Comparative Planning Research
Paying special attention to differences in the comparative objects in this way would deepen our understanding of the planning world. It is quite a matter of course that comparison needs multiple comparative objects. Further, I would like to mention three points that seem to be important for comparative research.
First, in order to explore the differences in the comparative objects it is necessary to carefully compare each set of corresponding elements separately. Such a comparison is premised on the idea that there are some structural similarities between the comparative objects. If there are no structural similarities, it is simply impossible to make a comparison. Isaac Newton cannot be compared with an apple. On the other hand, Isaac Newton can be compared with Marilyn Monroe.
In other words, the structural similarity and the attributive difference (and similarity) are made clear by the comparison. Having detected some areas of similarity, by increasing the number of cases compared, we can gradually approach ‘universality’. This also suggests that comparative research finds not only differences but also makes the universality clear.
Second, in the comparative research method that I have just described, you may have an impression that we compare very mechanically the corresponding elements with equal weights. This method may be called a ‘hard comparison’ in contrast to a ‘soft comparison’, by which you have a main comparative object in the centre of your concern with a heavy weight and compare it with many other objects without placing an equal value on them. In this case, emphasis is put on searching for the unique characteristics of the main comparative object, which may lead to the discovery of the particular ‘key concept’ of it.
For example, I think it is possible to pretty well explain the general characteristics of the planning world of England with the key concept of the ‘amenity ideal’ and similarly the American planning world with the key concept of the ‘community ideal’. The ‘Watanabe Thesis’ would hold that another unique British key concept is the ‘country living ideal’. Without understanding the historical and social context of this ideal, it is impossible for a foreigner to answer the question: ‘Why do all British town planning professors choose to live in the countryside, not in the city?’
Third, the comparative objects that you choose can be the case of multiple countries in the same period or the case of a single country at different periods. We can understand the former as international comparative research and the latter as historical research. These two research methods can be equally handled in this way, at least structurally. This view is especially important in trying to find the essential characteristics of the planning world that have constantly changed historically in every country.
A theoretical framework and plan of approach have been set out above. When these two are laid on top of each other, what kinds of new understandings and questions are created? I will discuss these two points in order now.
Planning System Intervention
It is worth asking: ‘What does it mean to say that a planning system “makes” the built environment?’ That is to ask: ‘How does the planning system intervene in the process by which the social base creates the built environment?’ In the case of modern Western urban planning, public intervention into the market by governments was a response to the evident ‘failure of the market’ in providing a good urban environment during the Industrial Revolution. The following three are the fundamental technical measures that were developed as planning tools.
The first is ‘public works’. Public works are the direct provision by the government of a range of such urban infrastructure as roads, parks, and others that are not usually provided through the market mechanism. In order to provide such services it is commonly necessary for the government to acquire sites and to build on them by itself. This can be seen as a ‘direct intervention’ by the government in the working of the market.
The second is ‘regulations’. The government can also have a powerful influence on the development of urban areas even when it does not build directly; it can regulate the processes of investment and building of new housing, shops, and factories by the private sector. Such regulations can be seen as an ‘indirect intervention’ in market processes by the government. A common example of such regulations is the land use control techniques such as American ‘zoning’ and British ‘development control’.
Generally speaking, modern Western urban planning tried to control the entire urban space by dividing it into two areas of distinctly different nature and dealing with them with different planning measures. One is the public space for urban infrastructure by public works, which was maintained directly by the government; the other is the privately owned space for private development, which was indirectly regulated by the government.
The third is the ‘Master Plan’, or American ‘comprehensive plan’ and British ‘development plan’. It is often the case that in carrying out public works and regulations, local citizens’ opinions will come up to oppose them. In order to both gain citizens’ consent and to allow greater input from public opinion, it becomes necessary to create a common basis for creating the ‘good’ built environment.
The Master Plan is a public document that shows the concept of a future vision for the development, improvement, and conservation of the built environment in the form of maps, diagrams, and short text. Its functions are: first, to serve as the basic grounds for individual decisions for public works and regulations; and second, to provide visions to widen the range of choices for future decisions. In this way the Master Plan became an important planning tool for systematising such public participation and evaluation.
The sophisticated two-tier system made up of the Master Plan, on the one hand, and public works and regulations, on the other, is well developed in the West, which is the technical core of modern planning at large.
Social Support for the Planning System
For a planning system to be able to make effective interventions, it is crucial that it has strong and informed support in the social base. What we should pay attention to here is the structure of that support. The point is the question: ‘Which social class benefits most from the practice of planning?’
For the most part, the supporters of modern Western urban planning were the newly developed middle classes whose own homes were in the suburbs, and their aim was to create and protect their ‘good’ residential environment through land use regulations. In fact, the motivation of preserving their own property values was clear but kept rather secret.
A planning profession with its own sense of values and expertise was created to carry urban planning forward. Those professionals developed an image of the ‘good city’, which denied the further growth of large cities, promoted dispersed suburban development, and developed a powerful system of land use controls to ensure that the suburbs remained separate from the central city. This image of the city and of the planning system was widely supported by the middle class. In other words, a planning system that was strongly supported by the social base was established.
The professional planners transcended their particular workplace and became a group that was united by their professional identity. In both the US and UK, the planning profession became established as a separate discipline from either architecture or engineering. The concept of the ‘good city’ is usually left quite abstract in the planning laws, and it is entrusted to the judgement of the profession to gradually define it through practical applications. In practice, therefore, in England the members of the Royal Town Planning Institute are the ones who define what the ‘good city’ is. It is not Prince Charles.
In the West, planning professionals with their own sense of values and expertise have a great deal of social support. If we look at it from a global perspective, though, such a situation is quite unusual. From the perspective of Japanese planners, it is doubly enviable that in the West the planning profession is independently established in this way and that the professionals have such strong social support. I believe many planners outside the West share this envy.
As for the social support behind urban planning in the West, it seems quite natural that it is scarcely worth mentioning. Outside the West, however, there are many countries in which there is very little social support for planning. It means that the planning system intervenes little or not at all in the process through which ‘the society builds the city’. It means that ‘the society is free to build the city itself’.
Many planners in the West, looking at the planning in the non-West, would criticise: ‘You are provided with such a “good” planning system and yet you have such a “bad” built environment.’ But I do not think this criticism is very helpful in two ways. First, all planners would agree that a planning system that intervenes little or not at all is unable to create a ‘good’ city any way.
Second, from the society’s point of view, the city that the society can build with little or no ‘unjust’ intervention IS the ‘good city’. In other words, the viewpoints of the ‘society’ and of planners can be quite different and even contradictory. There, the non-West planners are not necessarily supported as in the West.
Here, let us look at the case of land use controls. A planning system may be well supplied with various measures of regulations, but actually using them effectively is an entirely different matter. In the non-West, it is often the case that various regulatory techniques are used in ways quite different from what was originally intended, or are even not used at all. In the West, because the gap between the intent of planning techniques and their actual use is not so large, it is possible to read the urban planning law and have a reasonably accurate understanding of the facts.
In the non-West, however, it must be examined very carefully. There, even when there is a legally well-established planning system, there still can exist such practices as traditional and community-based controls as well as non-controls including a tacit consent for an illegal situation such as squatting. There, the situation is that ‘the society builds the city’ rather than ‘the planning system builds the city’. We should not overlook the reality and structure of such weakness or absence of effective planning controls. It is certainly the situation of ‘something worth knowing’ within the framework of the planning world diagram.
Transfer of the Planning System
Well I have spent about 40 minutes now. I had better hurry up because I can see that Professor Ward, who is also a timekeeper, is watching me with growing anxiety. It's OK, please don't worry. I promise to finish this within next ten minutes so that everyone can make it to the pub before closing time.
In this diagram of the planning world, we can understand the worldwide spread of urban planning, which I discussed before, as the transfer of a whole or part of the planning system of one country to other. As for the success or failure of the transfer, we had a rather inadequate viewpoint in the past.
It was often thought that transfer is a success if it results in the replication on the receiving side of a planning system that is similar to that of the sending side. Also, it was often considered to be a failure if the planning system is transferred but results in a very different form from the original or if the transfer that is tried is given up in the end.
The garden city idea is a very good example of the transfer that ended up with a fairly different form in most cases throughout the world, as the transfer of the garden city, in contrast to Howard's concept, resulted in garden suburbs.
Certainly, in this process it is essential for the receiving side both to have an accurate understanding of the planning system that is being transferred, and to fully grasp the context of the social bases of both the sending and receiving sides. There are also many cases, however, where even though the planning system was understood accurately it did not work in the implementation process of the receiving side. I believe it is in this implementation process that the transferred planning system is socially scrutinised as: acceptable as it is; acceptable only if it is transformed properly; or not acceptable and to be rejected. And we should not see the cases of transformation and rejection simply as failures.
Here I would like to reverse the normal way of looking at it. In other words, when thinking about ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in the transfer of planning systems, it is not just a simple matter of it being a success if one transfers the original system intact, and a failure if one cannot.
Generally speaking, there are many cases in the non-West where the planning system does not function at all as it is expected to in the West. In such cases Western planners are often unable to forgive the existence of ‘bad’ results in the built environment even where a ‘correct’ theory was applied. But in fact the reverse is true. What may be a ‘correct’ theory in the West can be quite naturally an ‘inappropriate’ theory that is, in our framework, even a ‘bad’ theory in the non-West. This view also may be applicable to the case of the garden city theory.
In this way we can begin to develop a new viewpoint about the transfer of planning systems. A desirable method for the transfer is probably not about results, but about process. In other words, it is necessary for the receiving side to have a pragmatic attitude in critically evaluating, in making any necessary changes to, and in even rejecting, the planning system to be transferred. And the final result should be reported back to the sending side. By this way both sides will learn from the transfer, be it a success or failure. Putting it like this, I believe that truly international planning exchange will be possible that will go beyond the limitation of West or non-West issues.
The Responsibility of Planners
In the diagram above, my attention is directed at the improvement of the planning system. Why? Because that is the practical purpose of planning research. Here it is important to distinguish between those factors that we can manipulate for intervention, and those factors that we cannot. The former are within our responsibility, while the latter cannot be our responsibility. Generally speaking, we can manipulate the planning system but cannot manipulate the social base.
For example, the miserable slums of developing countries may not be necessarily the result of a failure of urban planning, but are probably a direct reflection of the country’s poor social base. In fact, there is no need for practitioners to be ashamed of their country’s poor slums at all. It is likely, however, that they will continue to suffer frustrations because they have already seen a ‘good’ built environment that can be produced by a ‘good’ planning system of the affluent West.
This interpretation may effectively absolve planners from any responsibility. But ‘Can planners really escape from all responsibility for the poor social base?’ Of course NOT. It is necessary for them to challenge the society towards a planning system that can actually work, based on firm ideals, and with a strict adherence to realism. Here the development of Howard’s garden city movement provides an attractive model.
We all know that Howard’s garden city idea has strongly influenced the development of the British planning system from the days of the first Town Planning Act of 1909 to the post-war New Towns policy. In this example, we can see how an idea first conceived by a single individual gradually gained the support of the social base and influenced the development of the planning system. If we look at this diagrammatically, we can see that at each stage of the development, the idea of the garden city as the ‘driving force’ pushed forward the reality of various aspects of the social base, whereas the reality as the ‘checking force’ dragged the idea backward. In the somewhat violent interaction of these two forces, the idea makes progress. The thing that we planners have to do is to attempt to win at this tug of war between idea and reality.
Conclusion: Toward a 'World History' of Planning
Now it is time to conclude. Well, ‘What can we see when we review the 21st century from this perspective?’
In many non-Western countries, and especially in the developing world, most children will go to bed hungry, and most will sleep in slum-like environments tonight. On behalf of the people of such desperately poor countries, we are against ‘the city that the society makes’, yet ‘How, and in what ways, is it possible to provide a “good city” through a “good” planning system?’
Here again we should remember Howard. If our dear Sir Ebenezer had been born in 1950, and had opened a ‘Website of Tomorrow’ in 1998, let us imagine what great proposal he would have uploaded on it in the evening of July 11th, 2002, fighting against the frequent lock-ups and crippling virus invasions? For all those gathered here tonight, for planners and citizens throughout the world -- including computer experts -- that is a serious issue to consider.
The crucial question here is: ‘How can we prove the modern Western urban planning system, which spread throughout the world during the 20th century and which was proved to be really a useful social technology, as equally useful for the whole world society during the 21st century, particularly in the poor developing countries?’
Therefore, let us go ahead and take the various national histories that we have experienced personally and have each brought to this conference, and by discussing them from the global perspective, begin to weave them together into a contemporary and future ‘world history’ of planning.
After all, we are all world citizens -- And we are all Howard's students.
Thank you for your attention. Thank you, patient Buddhas. (End)
(*) Shun-ichi J. Watanabe, Professor of Urban Planning at the Department of Architecture at the University of Tokyo