It was a great honor to hear Professor John Friedmann speak at the Technical University of Vienna last week. The lecture was fascinating. Here are some of my notes, they are incomplete and the lecture was so full of information that I am sure I got some of it wrong. You can get a copy of the full lecture from the lecture organizer.
Friedmann’s lecture was structured around nine Austrian “cultural emissaries” who left Vienna for the outside world and directly influenced his thoughts about planning.
The nine are: economists Bertram Hoselitz, Friedrich Hayek, and Joseph Schumpeter; the sociologist Karl Mannheim; Martin Buber, a philosopher and Judaic scholar; Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher of language; Karl Popper, a philosopher of science; Paul Feyerabend, also a philosopher of science and a critic of Popper; and Karl Polanyi, an economic historian and social anthropologist.
Although Friedmann did not agree with all these thinkers, they all influenced his work.
Studies at the University of Chicago
Friedmann studied planning at the University of Chicago between 1949 and 1955. Four Austrians who influenced him there were:
Earlier work had been on the theory of economic development.
Innovation in economic production and the idea of entrepreneurship took off from his work.
Friedmann linked this concept to Hannah Arendt‘s idea of “action” (handeln in German) by which she meant “setting something new into the world.” For Friedmann planning is pragmatic or institutional innovation … not regulation and control (which is simply administration).
Another of Schumpeter’s famous ideas is creative destruction, where the old is destroyed to make room for the new. In this sense innovation is a form of insurgency against the status quo. Friedmann links this idea to entropy and negative entropy (dissipation and articulated growth). According to Friedmann, our nerves have, to date, been calmed by the illusion of universal progress (bought about by innovation), but he pointed out that “‘development’ in most of the world usually comes with a negative sign.”
After graduating from the University of Chicago in 1955, Friedmann worked as a development specialist in South America, South Korea and Japan (Ford Foundation, USAID, etc.). He also taught at MIT and in 1969 started teaching planning at UCLA where he remained until 1996.
Friedmann’s book “Retracking America” was published in 1973. It grew out of his experience working on development in South America, it caused him to re-think the idea of planning.
Friedmann’s idea: planning is a relationship between knowledge and action, it requires dialog.
A form of utopian planning based on local citizen participation.
Friedmann had returned to the more manageable idea of development planning, particularly in the developing world. During the 1980s the idea of large government intervention in development was being replaced (partly as a result of Thatcherism) by the idea of small NGO-based programs. But NGOs cannot deal with the huge structural problems in many developing countries. It was during this period that development planning lost its scheen.
Polanyi’s book described development freed from the language of classical economics, … “Disposable labor is allocated between the production of use values in the moral economy and exchange values in the capitalist economy.” Focused on the household as a social institution rather than a utility maximizing individual. Led Friedmann to the concept of social empowerment and a view of poverty defined as a lack of access to the bases of social power (Empowerment: The politics of alternative development).
Some closing thoughts
National boundaries no longer explain much.
Planning is an innovative activity following Hannah Arendt’s definition … innovation is sending something new into the world.
Planning = the relationship between knowing and acting.
Acceleration of human and social change = the acceleration of local history.
Planning is a dynamic pattern of interacting forces, but it’s almost impossible to see these forces.
In China planning is more of a ritual activity rather than a guiding force, change is happening too fast for the existing planning structure to keep up.
Planning theory = part of a theory of socio-spatial change … planning is normative, but history just goes on.
Questions and Answers
Organized civil society = Friedmann’s hope for the future.
A tacit knowing is needed, but how do we get it? To Popper knowledge was ‘free floating’ somewhere above us, if only we could find it.
But, when we do find it, is it true? We know much knowledge today is generated with a point of view (cigarette company funded health research) … so, what’s the truth?
Our interest as planners is to change the world, not to look for the ultimate truth (where ever this ultimate truth is, we can be sure we won’t find it).
Knowledge is related to where we stand, knowledge and belief are closely inter-tied.
There is more than one kind of knowledge, who can dismiss knowledge that is based on experience, or religion?
We need to embrace a plurality of knowledges (note plural) to start a conversation on how to change the world for the better.
Principle of dialog won’t go by the wayside.
We need to analyze information to understand its meaning.
To gain knowledge we need to work through the differences.
In a city with many differences we can either give up on the idea of common good and everyone can be out for themselves (pure capitalism) or work through our differences (through dialog with planners acting as facilitators). Note that this is a very different role for planning than Master Planning from on high. Example of Vancouver BC waterfront planning process = extensive resident dialog, it was not a plan dropped on the city from heaven.
Planning must be communications-based – why? It’s transactive particularly if you want to add other groups to the dialog beyond the state.
Civil society is key. Friedmann hopes for innovation based on ideas coming from civil society. An analysis of needs with a democratic ethos.
Hope for a better world is to learn to live with in our means (Greece is a good example when we don’t live within our means) … this will mean substantial change in the next 50 years.
Cities will always be unjust. Rapid change always generates inequality … fighting for the ultimately just city is a losing battle. (For example, the UN Millennial goals: only relevant for a static world, but the world is changing too rapidly for these goals, however good they are today. There will always be new inequalities.)
We need to change the question we ask about cities … in planning we never have enough knowledge, we are always taking risks because we don’t know the future … we need to act on assumptions and then act again after seeing the results.
We need to be practical and we need to PRACTICE
Social learning is a step by step process, taken by different actors.
And then, suddenly, two hours had gone by … As you can see there were so many interesting ideas it was hard to record them all accurately. I did the best I could but am sure I got some of it wrong. Feel free to add corrections or thoughts in the comments.