– Bruce Long
The state of the art in urban, town, and city planning provides lots of examples of how planning philosophy is always operating in the background in planning scenarios. We have mentioned in previous articles that the primary contemporary planning philosophies are constructivism, positivism, and functionalism (mostly in China).
Constructivists see the solution to problems as being situated with the beliefs, imaginations, and intuition of people. Constructivists about urban and planning regard that the important data and research used to plan an urban environment should come from such things as studies centered upon social psychology and testing of individual wellbeing and health outcomes with respect to the planned space. Positivists are less concerned about these psychologistic aspects and are more concerned about ‘hard’ environmental, economic, and geographical data.
Panelak and Greenspace – Krakow
Functionalism – largely the approach of the former Soviet Union and current and former Communist China – is driven by tight resource criteria and socialist premises. It has always integrated elements of both positivism, and to a lesser extent, constructivism. It has matured into a hybrid approach that is called the harmonic-sustainability model or harmony-sustainability model. Older industrial functionalism in Soviet and mid Twentieth Century Chinese and Soviet Bloc planning resulted in brutalist and panelak (prefabricated panels like those in Krakow in the photo above) type architectures set in large greenspaces to answer the problems of population size, social housing, and minimal-cost optimal aesthetic quality.
Chinese and Soviet planners always considered the social component of planning to be important, and in important respects their planning philosophy was, and still is, socialist and communist, since both of these political philosophies are directly concerned with the lived spaces and environment of the people who live in a society – certainly in principle. More recent Chinese planning – since the economic boom of China began in earnest in the late 1980s, has retained the original industrial-socialist-functional approach, but with new focus on hybridising with constructivist concerns more broadly.
The Soviets and the Chinese Maoist Communist governments were (and in the latter case still are) interested in conveying the same kind of impressions of unity and grandeur as other societies around the world have done historically. However, the socialist elements of their thinking lead to enormous pride in the ability to achieve scale and, in many cases daunting size and scope.
The approach to planning in contemporary China, where the largest planning and infrastructure challenges in the world are currently undertaken, exemplifies the use of space, and especially the integration of large city infrastructure with rural and natural space. So again political philosophy is directly influential in planning philosophy in a way that is perhaps unmatched anywhere else in the world today.
Former Soviet and contemporary Chinese cities and urban developments are excellent for showcasing the effect of philosophies of planning on planning practice, because the philosophies in question are directly influenced by what are undoubtedly and unambiguously political philosophy, as well as expediency.