What is it about?

In the twentieth century, “planning” as a (public) activity and the “plan” as an instrument came to coincide. According to this perspective, planners are professionals specialised primarily in conceiving and designing plans. This article suggests that we should reject the overlap between planning and plan, recognising the latter as just one of the tools that planners can use – and for very specific purposes. The article starts by distinguishing between two different tasks of local administrations: the “infrastructural” task, and the “regulatory” one. Subsequently, it emphasises how the pre-twentieth-century idea of the plan was in the twentieth century inappropriately extended from infrastructural activities to regulatory ones as well. The article proceeds by suggesting how to remedy this situation: that is, demarcating more sharply between two different kinds of planning intervention – infrastructural and regulatory – and employing plans prevalently in the former case while utilising different instruments for the latter.

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Why is it important?

Two significant implications of the discussion conducted in the article are the following. First, and on the one hand, there is the necessity to rediscover the importance of plans – and of skills and techniques peculiar to them – when they are really necessary and useful; in particular, it seems crucial to rediscover the importance of infrastructure plans. Second, and on the other hand, there is the necessity to develop new ideas, skills and techniques regarding (different) regulatory instruments. This aspect has long been underestimated because a very reductive idea of regulation and of rules has been explicitly or implicitly adopted. Recognizing how sophisticated and articulated the range of employable rules (to control and guide land use and development) can be is instead crucial.


Between the two extremes represented by the orthodox idea of ‘planning (only) through plans’ and the opposite idea of ‘planning without plans (at all)’, it is possible to imagine a sensible intermediate position: ‘planning by means of various instruments, even plans (when really needed)’.

prof. Stefano Moroni
Politecnico di Milano

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Distinguishing ‘planning’ from the ‘plan’. Institutional and professional implications of taking urban complexity seriously, European Planning Studies, May 2023, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2023.2217851.
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