How planning systems depend on political context and why this was the biggest mistake ever made
Since the beginning of consciousness people are trying to find and define their place in this world. We try to explore and understand it, but not as careful observers; our presence and interference is direct – we are constructing our world, believing that it belongs to us. Planning can be seen as a discipline that provides signposting in this labyrinth, organising human existence on this planet. However, in my personal opinion, planners (and generally, the State) usually forget that life is happening everywhere, under all circumstances, every day, and that the agency can offer myriad of imaginative solutions to societal needs. Planning is therefore responsible not only for offering a set of studied solutions to known challenges, but also for recognising future strategies for dealing with uncertainties.
However, I have personally experienced that the imagination nested in agency is not as romantic as it seems nor as logical to find as it appears. I will give an example. One of my previous projects, A Model for Savamala, where I was in the role of an architect, tried to override the limits of a planning system that was neglecting community needs in a devastated area in Belgrade (Serbia). In order to stimulate dialogue and provide the community with a tool for participation in the planning debate, we have constructed a 3D physical model of Savamala relating to the sociological, economical and political facts. It represents the existing urban morphology and typology, it goes into issues of the property structure and space use, indicates the intensity and variety of commercial activities, availability of empty spaces, restitution issues, illegal spaces, indicates traffic data, number of space users during the day and night, old photographs and plans of each plot, personal documents given by residents, recorded interviews. However, constant presence in the area, inclusion of numerous institutions and other stakeholders, sensitiveness to subjective points of view, recognition of relations and mutual dependencies, listening and learning skills – they were all useless and the project was a complete failure. The community was there, active and engaged, but the change of political party and the rules of power behind the planning structure made this imagination irrelevant and at that point made our world hugely different from our everyday realities. If at any point one feels that his/her everyday imagination and needs are displaced from the ‘world’ around, can we still claim that our construction and invention of ways of finding our place in the world succeeded? I hope that the answer lies in changing the signposting.