Fifteen Years of Critical Planning (2008)


Editorial Note

Fourteen previous issues of Critical Planning line the bookshelves of our office. Leafing through them, reading all their editorials, mining institutional memories locked in their pages, and taking them all together, it becomes clear how much has changed over the years, and it is heartening to see which elements of the original mission remain. The journal began with a small group of students sharing their own texts and commissioning work from others. It emerged in a period of transition: the Planning Department separated from the Architecture Department and joined the newly structured School of Public Policy and Social Research (later renamed the School of Public Affairs), a process instigated by the Chancellor’s Professional Schools Restructuring Initiative.

Now, as always, the shape of the journal’s content reflects the energies and concerns of those who devote their time, intellect, and passion to its production. Critical Planning remains a forum for debating key issues, concerns, and "questioning the ways in which urban planning is conceptualized and practiced" (Volume 4, editorial). Instead of debating and publishing our own work, we now draw from an ever-growing international pool of submissions from researchers of cities and regions working in a variety of disciplines. In the last two years, we have received fifty-four and forty-nine submissions respectively in our double-blind peer review process, compared to twenty in prior years of peer-review. This year, a dedicated Editorial Board of nine people guided the overall development of the journal’s content. A small army of reviewers developed detailed assessments of each submission that were then sent to every author. Our talented webmaster designed a web application that made our internal review process, and sharing of information between the reviewers and editorial board for all forty-nine articles, seamless. The high quality of the work of other volunteer staff members who found fantastic photos, copyedited finished manuscripts, and designed the final product comprise the all-important finishing touches that transformed a collection of extremely interesting articles into a beautiful volume worth having on one’s shelf.

The energy that produced our 15th Anniversary Volume—on an incredibly tight January to May production schedule—was not only enormous, it was fed by a convivial and inclusive process, jovial conversations, and heated debates. It has been a privilege to work with this staff and the authors. I am grateful for all their hard work and dedication to producing another fantastic volume. At the close of my second and final cycle as Managing Editor, I implore our readers to take a moment to review the names on the inside cover of this (and every) issue; these are the many people who make Critical Planning happen.

While the production process has evolved to be deeper, richer, and more rigorous over the years, the Editorial Board still enacts the legacy we inherited from the editors of the early volumes. The journal is not only an unparalleled extension of the student-led intellectual life of the UCLA Urban Planning Department, it serves as a space of reflection and open engagement with the state of our discipline. This year, the introduction of the Edward W. Soja Prize for Critical Thinking in Urban and Regional Research became a further enticement for authors to submit cutting edge research dealing with cities and regions from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Each of the ambitious and high-quality articles in this volume ask for some degree of critical rethinking of issues familiar or neglected that impact planning in theory and practice.

Leading off the volume is the inaugural Soja Prize winning article, "Use it or Lose It: Toronto’s 'Abandonment Issues’ Campaign for Affordable Housing." Co-authors David Wachsmuth, a 2008 MA graduate in urban planning from the University of Toronto, and Shiri Pasternak, a Doctoral candidate in the same department, skillfully develop a social definition of "abandonment," laying fertile theoretical ground for calling into question the "North American private property regime." They carry the reader through a tightly woven discussion of this framework and its implications for how we conceptualize and address the basic needs of shelter. That their clear and compelling argument is followed by a discussion of their theory-informed practice—the "Abandonment Issues" campaign in Toronto they co-coordinate—is among the features that set this article apart from the others and earned it the first Soja Prize.

As we hoped, our deliberately broad 15th Anniversary call for papers that "address current and critical issues facing the present and future of cities and regions in the US and around the globe" yielded a volume that addresses a wide range of topics. Austin Zeiderman’s analysis of the discourse on megacities raises compelling questions about the implications of having sprawling megacities of the Global South as the new harbingers of our urban future. Sarah Dooling deftly applies Giorgio Agamben’s concept of "bare life" to reframe how we conceptualize home and homelessness for unhoused populations, particularly those who live in the city’s green spaces and public parks in Seattle. John Duda interrogates the roots of a national poverty deconcentration policy, arguing that they are connected to an "originary" logic of war fed by responses to the urban uprisings of the 1960s. Victor Pineda, in revisiting the gains from the Berkeley Independent Living Movement, calls for a more comprehensive spatial consciousness in policymakers, planners, and disability advocates to make an enabling built environment for all. Kuniko Shibata details spatial governance practices in Japan from 1980 to 2007, as an application of neoliberal policy in the developmental state. She highlights the particular forms of risk these policies pose to the environment and residents of Japan, who lack protections and legal recourse present in the western developed states where neoliberal policies were first conceived and implemented. Using the case of transportation planning in Canada, Ren Thomas introduces research and existing programs that demonstrate the potential for youth to participate in insurgent forms of planning and civic life.

In the second section of the volume we devoted a great deal of space and energy to engaging with the concept of "critical planning" in theory, practice, and educational environments. This was instigated in large part by a text we received from an early graduate from the department, longtime MIT Planning Professor Bish Sanyal, who sent an essay reflecting on his educational experience at UCLA in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We solicited responses to this text from UCLA faculty members, Jacqueline Leavitt and Goetz Wolff, and a current MA student Stephen Narsoo. Editorial board members and doctoral students, Miguel Kanai and Konstantina Soureli, frame the debate with a thought-provoking introduction.

The final major piece is the editorial board’s interview with Columbia University planning professor and theorist, Peter Marcuse. Given his recent writings about critical planning, we asked Marcuse to discuss his definition of critical planning practice and education in the contemporary context, which he sets in a broader typology of existing forms of planning practice. This reflection on the current state of the discipline further enriches the debate begun by Sanyal. It is worth noting, however, that Marcuse did not read Sanyal’s article in advance of our interview. Furthermore, Marcuse was an early faculty member in the department from 1972–1975 at which time he joined the planning faculty at Columbia.

With the contents of the volume, and its production process thoroughly introduced, I offer some thoughts about the critical project for our readers, and future editorial staffs:

Regardless of our station in life, if we care about leaving our world better than we found it, we start with ourselves. Critical thinking and writing have an important role to play, but not for their own sake, not for the sake of deconstructing or critiquing the world, or ourselves, or the actions and formulations of others only. A critical perspective is only as powerful as what it creates . If it only creates further critique without motivating political will, transforming policy approaches, or building power with those who have little, it is a hollow intellectual exercise. Critical engagement can transform our interaction with the world, and generate better ways of thinking about issues and fresh and powerful practices.

Whether as scholars, practitioners, students, teachers, activists, inhabitants, neighbors, family members or friends, we are all involved in the constant creation of a world we can live with, or not. We are always at a crossroads, always able to choose how we act within the spaces we have created that have also created us. What will we create? We must not underestimate the fact that decisions we make in and about our microenvironments present a space of radical openness for shifting presently dysfunctional paradigms and opening future possibilities. The cumulative task of affecting shifts at the scale of macropolicies may yet follow from such microtransformations.

We have, in my opinion, long since reached the point when we should use plain language to fully explain what is broken in our society, such that we might fix it. Appeals to abstract concepts are, at the end of the day, meaningless if they are not informing action. We do not need a unified field theory, we need tools for doing justice for ourselves, that we might also enable our neighbors and distant others. Making theoretical and practical sense of the world in which decisions about how the built environment, and the opportunities it enables, are shaped—and in turn shape us—is a key task that informs future actions of our discipline. Critical Planning has been a place where we respect scholarship and debate as seeds of action. I encourage all critical writers and readers to join in activating this legacy.

-Ava Bromberg

Table of Contents

Use It or Lose It: Toronto's "Abandonment Issues" Campaign for Affordable Housing
David Wachsmuth and Shiri Pasternak 2008 EDWARD W. SOJA PRIZE RECIPIENT

Editorial Note: Fifteen Years of Critical Planning
Ava Bromberg

Cities of the Future? Megacities and the Space/Time of Urban Modernity
Austin Zeiderman

Ecological Gentrification: Re-negotiating Justice in the City
Sarah Dooling

Naturalizing Urban Counterinsurgency
John Duda

Enabling Justice: Spatializing Disability in the Built Environment
Victor Santiago Pineda

Neoliberalism, Risk, and Spatial Governance in the Developmental State: Japanese Planning in the Global Economy
Kuniko Shibata

Engaged or Disinterested? Youth Political and Civic Participation in Canadian Transportation Planning
Ren Thomas

On Critical Planning Education: Introduction to the Debate
Miguel Kanai and Konstantina Soureli

Critical about Criticality
Bish Sanyal

What Aspect of Critical Planning Should We Be Concerned With?
Goetz Wolff

Meaningful Convergences
Jacqueline Leavitt

On Knowledge, Action, and Voice in Planning Practice: Stories from South Africa
Stephen Narsoo

Critical Planning Today: An Interview with Peter Marcuse
Critical Planning Editorial Board

Book Review: Gentrification
Noah Ebner