Planning for the future

Ingemar Elander has published a paper discussing the role of planners and planning researchers in the quest of creating sustainable societies and handling global challenges in terms of climate, migration, pandemics and democracy.

The paper is divided into three themes. First, planning theory is located as a hybrid discipline between sociology, political science and human geography. Second, planning theory is discussed in relation to democracy theory and the balance between “big” representative democracy and “small” participatory democracy. Third, the impact of specific contexts on the possibilities and constraints of citizen participation is lifted. This is illustrated through two examples of complex planning situations in the city of Örebro. 

The first example is a neighbourhood development project in which the sensitive nature of planning becomes clear, and the contrasting views on the meaning of sustainability between residents, politicians, the housing company and the construction company complicates the communication. The other example concerns the relocation of the huge transport company Elektroskandia and the negotiations between the company and its multinational mother company Sonepar, local politicians, the municipal planning office and the ecologists at the county administrative board, to ensure its new location will not result in loss of protected nature and biodiversity. 

Elander describes the paper as a reflection on a never-ending discussion among planners, planning researchers and the public on the merits and limits of citizen participation, arguing that the discussion has a repetitive flavour like 'pouring old wine in new bottles', although the term ‘mini-publics’ may indicate an innovative potential. Moving beyond this rather repetitive debate he lifts the relevance of planning theory today, concluding that 'planners and planning researchers are crucial as potential bridge builders between the institutions of representative democracy, elected representatives and lay people'. By listening and talking to the actors involved, and trying to find acceptable solutions, Elander suggests that planners could be key actors in complicated cases. 

The paper is published in the Swedish journal PLAN, where scientists and practitioners are describing, analysing, and debating contemporary challenges for the planning profession.

Elander, I. (2021) 'Favorit i ständig repris? Planering i gränslandet mellan representativ och deltagande demokrati'/'Ever-repetitive favourite? Planning on the borderline between representative and participatory democracy'. Plan, Spring Issue 2021.  The full issue is available here. (pdf in Swedish)