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The universal and the contingent: Some reflections on the transnational flow of planning ideas and practices

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor Patsy Healey OBE


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In this essay, I reflect on the way planning concepts, techniques, instruments and the general idea of ‘planning’ itself flow from one place to another, particularly in the context of the transnational flow of planning ideas. In the past, our conception of such flows was underpinned by linear and singular models of development pathways – the ‘modernization’ myth. This rendered them apparently benign and positive contributions to ‘development’. Today, such concepts have been replaced by a recognition of contingency and complexity, which highlights the particular histories and challenges of localities in different parts of the world, and the damaging consequences when external ideas about planning and development are planted upon specific histories and geographies. This refocusing in turn raises questions about any general meaning of ‘planning’ as a universal good technology for complex urbanized societies. The paper reviews these shifts in conception, and then considers firstly how, as planning academics and practitioners, we should build narratives around particular ‘travelling’ planning ideas, to help critical learning in places where such ideas get to ‘land’. Secondly, I suggest how the idea of ‘planning’ itself might be approached, as a general concept contingently evolving through the experiences and debates we engage in as a ‘community of inquirers’ through which we compose and construct our field of interest. In such a formulation, the general idea of planning is lodged in the tradition of experience, innovation, debate and critique which have accumulated around the practices of managing co-existence in complex urbanized societies.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Healey P

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Planning Theory

Year: 2012

Volume: 11

Issue: 2

Pages: 188-207

Print publication date: 19/09/2011

ISSN (print): 0309-1317

ISSN (electronic): 1468-2427

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1177/1473095211419333


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