Today's Master Plans benefits the masters
"In city planning, participatory democracy has largely increased inequality, not lessened it." (Badger, 2020)
There is a new masterplan ongoing in Finland now in 2021, revised from 2007, that plans to increase the size of Vantaa, a city adjacent to Helsinki, on 4000 new more people per year till 2050, according to the Helsingin Sanomat Newspaper. "Due to its importance, the creation of a new master plan proposal has also aroused strong contradictions and passions. However, after compromises, the parties have finally reached an agreement." (Salomaa, 2021). The article lists several disagreements and choices to be done between light rails, forests and new buildings. It states often "Decision Makers" and the importance of these Master Plans, but it fails to address more detail on who are these Decision Makers, and if it is so important, to whom is it and are these part of the decision making process?
Most of our decision makers are politicians, holding temporarily, 4 to 5 years terms, jobs which would require expertise on the subject. For example a deputy vice mayor of a city in charge of urban planning should be a top expert on construction and planning, not merely a career politician. But this is not so in many places, including in Finland. One would expect that in doing so, the politician in charge would understand the significance of the decisions that are being done and involve more and more all citizens affected by the choices to be carried on. This is not also the case most of the time.
A lack of empathy from the expert side is understandable, as no civil engineer or architect really wants to be chatting around with the local elderly about the master plan, having to educate them on years of practice and formation justifying the design. But from politicians one would expect more inclusive programs, a wide informational and integration plan, parallel even if not, overarching the master plan itself. Politicians suffer from the same lack of time and empathy the experts do, as often they get arrogant with their supposedly ubermensch abilities.
The cult of ignorance, as Isaac Asimov described, is the assumption that in a democracy everyone's vote counts the same. Indeed this frightens away people who have been busy with complex topics such as urban planning, both technocrats as well as politicians. The history of participatory planning and participatory budgeting has been counterproductive. Most participants are wealthy citizens, well informed and with time to invest in assuring their interests are met. The working class, tired of a long day, won't care for these trivialities and their role in city politics decreases steadily.
The integration of citizens into life changing plans in our cities must be done accounting expertise and proximity to changes being done, not flat one the classical one person one vote, nor on the time availability of each individual. There are ways of doing so, even without enforcing much time investment from citizens nor an increase in bureaucracies.
If we continue on the same path as we are now, relying on a Master for the plan, the plan is going to benefit a Master, not the crowd. Pedro Aibéo
Badger, Emily, times article “The Pandemic Has Pushed Aside City Planning Rules. But to Whose Benefit?“, accessed 22.07.2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/20/upshot/pandemic-city-planning-inequality.html?fbclid=IwAR2yGqtLJsbSYl2uhl0XSFmwcN3k1AnEAGHkm4y9A3-NFfKWYnFwAbvUy_U
Salomaa, Marja , Helsingin Sanomat article, 24.1.2021, accessed 25.01.2021 in https://www.hs.fi/kaupunki/art-2000007759228.html