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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Institute of Urban and Regional Development, a campuswide organized research unit, conducts collaborative, interdisciplinary research and practical work that helps scholars and students understand the dynamics of communities, cities and regions while informing public policy at the local, state and national levels.

The Institute provides a research home and support to individual faculty and graduate students who initiate their own projects or collaborate on multidisciplinary programs. The Institute's Community Partnerships Office comprises a significant institutional program of partnership with communities and public and nonprofit agencies in the Bay Area to assist them with research, evaluations, conferences, workshops, internships and innovative planning and design.

Cover page of A Turning Point for Planning Theory?: Overcoming Dividing Discourses

A Turning Point for Planning Theory?: Overcoming Dividing Discourses

(2013)

After communicative planning theory (CPT) emerged in the 1980’s, challenging assumptions and prevailing theories of planning, debates ensued among planning theorists that led to apparently opposing groups with little space for mutual learning. The most difficult obstacle is that critiques of CPT framed several dichotomies making different perspectives appear incompatible. This article seeks to advance the dialogue of planning theory perspectives by acknowledging the key tensions embedded in this framing, but arguing that they can be viewed as reflecting contradictions to be embraced as an opportunity for a more robust planning theory. Drawing on Manuel Castells’ (2009) theory of communication power the article explores four of these contradictions and shows how in each case embracing the contradictions as aspects of our complex world can lead to insights and a richer planning theory. The article concludes with suggestions for improved dialogue among theorists and identifies research that can advance our understanding of communication power. 

Cover page of A Turning Point for Planning Theory?: Overcoming Dividing Discourses

A Turning Point for Planning Theory?: Overcoming Dividing Discourses

(2013)

Communicative planning theory (CPT), which emerged in the 1980s and 90s, unsettled assumptions about what planning is, how it works, and how it ought to be done. It also challenged ideas about what theory should be for and what form it should take. CPT refers to the work of a cluster of scholars in planning and related fields who conducted fine-grained, interpretive research on planners and planning processes, using concepts from social theorists as tools to make sense of what they observed and to develop normative perspectives on practice. They focused in considerable part on communication, interaction and dialogue, and drew new theorists into planning thought, including most notably Habermas, Foucault, and Dewey. They wrote stories of practice along with reflections on them. While CP theorists each took a different angle, they became a community of sorts, sharing drafts of manuscripts, discussing ideas on panels and in personal correspondence, building their work on one another’s ideas.

As CP theorists proliferated, their work drew increasing attention in the planning academy. This came to a head in response to an article in the Journal of Planning Education and Research (Innes 1995), which asserted that CPT could become the dominant paradigm in planning theory. A storm of criticism broke out, surprisingly not primarily from the rational model theorists whose work they had challenged, but from the political economists and neo-Marxists, whose work had also been an important part of planning thought since the 1960’s. Panels and conferences were set up to “debate” CPT and proceedings were published in journals. Writing articles critical of CPT became almost a cottage industry. Many of critics’ claims, however, were grounded in oversimplifications and misunderstandings of CP research and ideas. CP theorists continued to focus on their own work rather than responding to what amounted to attacks. The few who offered limited responses seemed unable to change the critics’ views. 

Today planning theory seems to have become a set of dividing discourses. People talk past one another. Blame, criticism, and incivility often crowd out scholarly dialogue and inquiry (e.g. Bengs 2005). Theorists are divided into camps, speaking in different languages to different ends. Students are often confused and frustrated, craving a way to make sense of the differences. While the brouhaha may have started as a war over turf and over which views will be dominant, the result today is that we as theorists have little ability to learn from our differences. The situation is neither conducive to constructive conversation, nor to building richer and more robust theory. The most difficult obstacle to such conversation is that the critiques have framed a set of dichotomies among perspectives, making them appear incompatible. 

Purpose and outline of the paper 

This paper takes on the project of helping the field move toward a common discourse through which we can explore and learn from our differences. We will not try to merge the perspectives—rather we will identify some of the tensions among them as evidenced by these dichotomies and use these as fuel for new ways of see our common enterprise. Along with the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory (Bernstein 1976), we contend contradictions are normal and that we must not only accept, but also embrace them if we are to learn and move forward. Our situation is similar to that of physicists trying to resolve the contradictions between quantum theory and general relativity, where research shows mysteries and paradoxes. This situation offers an opportunity for learning and new discoveries which could transform our understanding of the universe (Overbye 2013). 

We have to learn to live with dualities in our constantly changing world. In this paper we will offer one way to do this using the lens of Castells’ theory of communication power (Castells 2009). We start with brief summaries of the critiques and of Castells’ theory. We then examine four contradictions that emerge from the critiques: community knowledge versus science; communication power versus state power; collaboration versus conflict; and process versus outcome. Finally we offer thoughts on how planning theory can move beyond dividing discourses to richer theory.

Cover page of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): An Efficient and Competitive Mode of Public Transport

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT): An Efficient and Competitive Mode of Public Transport

(2013)

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems have gained popularity worldwide as a cost effective alternative to far more expensive urban rail investments. High quality bus based systems also better serve the low density settlement patterns of many suburban markets and small to medium size cities due to the inherent flexibility advantages of rubber tire systems – the same vehicle that provides speedy line haul services on a dedicated bus lane or busway can morph into a feeder vehicle, collecting and distributing customers on local streets.This report reviews experiences with designing and implementing BRT systems worldwide. BRT is first defined across a spectrum of service qualitiesand costs. Global trends are next reviewed, highlighting cities and regions of the world with the most extensive and advanced systems. Relationships between urban densities and BRT cost effectiveness are noted. System designs and operations – in terms of running ways, rolling stock, route configurations, stations, fare collections, and the like – are then reviewed. This is followed by a comparison of BRT’s cost and performance relative to urban rail transit systems. Information on the cost effectiveness of heavyrail, light rail, and BRT systems relative to urban densities are also compared. The report then turns to efforts among a handful to cities to proactively promote transit oriented development (TOD) near BRT stations and along corridors. This is followed by discussions on the institutional arrangements that have been introduced to effectively manage BRT services. The report closes with discussions on BRT’s likely future given global growth projections and other pressing policy agendas in the foreseeable future.

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Cover page of Transport Infrastructure and the Environment: Sustainable Mobility and Urbanism

Transport Infrastructure and the Environment: Sustainable Mobility and Urbanism

(2013)

The urban transportation sector’s environmental, economic, and social footprint is immense and expanding. Many of the world’s most vexing and pressing problems – fossil fuel dependency, global warming, poverty, and social exclusion – are inextricably tied to the transportation sector. Much of the blame for the transportation sector’s inordinate environmental footprint lies in the increasing automobile-dependency of cities. Rapid motorization unavoidably shifts future travel from the most sustainable modes – public transport and non-motorized ones (walking and cycling) – to private vehicles. Despite growing concerns over energy futures, climate change,

and access for the poor, public transport’s market share of trips is expected to erode over the next decade in all world regions if past trends (in how ownership and usage of the private car is priced and public financial resources are spent on transport infrastructure) continue. A paradigm shift is needed in how we think about transportation and its relationship to the city. The integration of transport infrastructure and urban development must be elevated in importance. In many cities of the Global South, recent Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) investments provide an unprecedented opportunity to do just that. To date, however, BRT systems have failed to leverage compact, mixed-use development due not only to little strategic station-area planning but also factors like siting lines and stations in stagnant urban districts and busy roadway medians. BRT systems are being conceived and designed as mobility investments rather than city-shaping ones. Given that the majority of future urban growth worldwide will be in intermediate-size cities well-suited for BRT investments, the opportunities for making these not only mobility investments but city- shaping investments as well should not be squandered. Transit-oriented development is but one

of a number of built forms that hold considerable promise toward placing cities of the Global

South on more sustainable mobility and urbanization pathways.