Can Planning Affect the Economic Crisis? Barely, and not unless planning changes radically

Peter Marcuse
To begin with, we should be clear that "urban planning and development" is not a single subject, but have, in fact, a tense and awkward relationship despite being implicitly merged in the theme of this issue of the Berkeley Planning Journal. Leaving aside Richard Florida's rather superficial analysis of such issues, David Harvey certainly does not look to planning as a source of the economic crisis; he might argue it is the lack of publicly-oriented planning that has permitted development to
more » ... astasize within the economic system, setting off the present crisis. Planning is hardly an independent force in urban development; our long history shows how dependent, indeed generally subservient, planning is to the market, barely influencing it at the margin. "The market" is not considered an actor, and we avoid facing reality when we glibly speak of "the market" doing this or requiring that. There are specific actors in the market: developers, builders, bankers, Wall Street traders, investors, residents of various kinds, marketing firms, tenants and owners, and of varying economic positions, of various ethnicities, with various preferences. All significantly influence and are influenced by public portrayals of what is desirable (and what is not desirable) in cities. These actors do interact in the market, but they are present in government, in the media, educational institutions. (What do we teach, and what do we assume in our teaching?) Today, whether developers are more active in the market than in influencing governmental decisions is a toss-up; they operate both in the private and in the public sphere. In the public sphere these stakeholders are a more decisive force than are planners (i.e. planners working in the public interest).