The planning system

The paper will discuss the various theories and approaches to planning with regard to social exclusion. Firstly ‘Planning’ is defined for the context of the paper. The readings reviewed approach and offer views on the changes in planning theory and practice that have taken place in an attempt to reduce social exclusion. Suggestions are made regarding the causes of social exclusion and the ways in which the planning system should change in the future to further reduce social exclusion.

The readings can be applied all over the world to many locations and many planning systems, but the bulk of the paper will refer to British examples. Planning is the system in place for managing changes to our environment. Through planning we can identify what changes we need to make; new homes, places to work, transport and community facilities etc; and where these should be located. Planning seeks to ensure that we achieve a balance between our need for new development while conserving what we value about our environment.

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Planning aims to balance our current need for development against the needs of future generations. Planning is about forward thinking to solve the problems of today and apprehend the problems of the future. It is about reflecting and learning from the patterns and history of the planning system world wide and learning from that history to plan for the future. The various definitions of planning do not place emphasis on planning for the future to include all sectors of society by eradicating all forms of social exclusion.

It is assumed that ‘the problems of today’ and ‘the needs of future generations’ refer to social exclusion amongst many others problems and needs, but in today’s society a greater emphasis should be placed upon the problems of social exclusion specifically to increase awareness. In 1993 the RTPI published a study carried out by the Hew Thomas who along with colleagues, carried out research which concluded that “their remained a great ignorance of, and occasionally reservations about the possibility of racial disadvantage in planning.

” (Thomas, H 1997 pp195) Recommendations were made to create an institutional framework which would provide encouragement and support for individuals and organizations to place a priority on the issue of exclusion. It is considered, however, that the conclusions drawn are far too presumptuous of the entire British Planning System, as just 100 questionnaires were sent by post and then follow up interviews were undertaken with just over 12 planning officers. This is not a fair representation of all the planners in the UK.

The author Thomas carried out the research and so is bound to be bias about the quality of the evidence. Thomas 1997 discusses the theory that the term ‘race’ has no scientific basis but has been determined by society through the recognition of differing physical features and that mankind is divided into: ‘unchanging natural types recognizable by physical features which are transmitted through blood which permit distinction between ‘mix’ and ‘pure’ races’. (Thomas 1997, pp197) It is then the behaviour of humans with the knowledge of the feature and the racial label that denote a type of behaviour.

The concept of race is created socially in that it is part of social processes of exclusion and of domination. Groups have become excluded through many vices. One example is a group of people unable to interact with the dominant group of people in a location, due to political, linguistic, religious and cultural boundaries as identified by Kahn in 1982. Kahn’s idea of ethnicity became prominent in the 1980’s. Ethnicity is defined in cultural terms whereby each ethnic group is assumed to be culturally homogenous and society as a whole consists of various different ethnic blocks.

This is the additive model. Thomas 1997 criticises the model claiming that it ignores individualities within the ethnic blocks such as gender, sexuality and class. The criticism is not unfounded as all humans and their behaviour are individual and to pigeon hole people into ethnic blocks is not a realistic nor accurate way of understanding society or the exclusion within. It is also not uncommon to have forms of exclusion within these so-called ‘ethnic blocks’. For example a religion that forbids certain activities or beliefs may exclude individuals within that community who partake in these activities.

This can then result in the individual having more affinity to another ‘ethnic block’. Another ethnic block may forbid women to show their skin. For some women growing up in a western country, they may feel socially excluded at school if the majority of girls are showing their skin. Yet if the individual from the said ‘ethnic block’ decides to wear western clothes, their own ‘ethnic block’ may choose to exclude them. There are women in the English white ‘ethnic block’ who are oppressed through their gender and dominated by males.

These women may show greater similarities to another ‘ethnic block’ whose culture defines women in the same way. These are just some of the individualities that occur, there are of course many more. In Britain today, oppression is not politically correct but there is still evidence to show it occurs throughout all races and, therefore, each person is an individual and can show similarities to various ‘ethnic blocks’. As identified by Thomas 1997, gender inequalities still persist today where women are still seen as subservient to men.

As a Development Control (DC) officer, daily contact with Architects, Agents, Solicitors and members of the public is a huge component of the profession. It is quite shocking to discover how many people including women expect DC officers to be male and assume women to be the secretaries phoning on behalf of the DC officers. For example when phoning to make appointments for site visits, applicants including women assume that the DC officer will be male and this mistake is openly admitted.

On some occasions there is much more open sexism for example in meetings it has been the case where males have said “A woman planning officer, why would you want to do that, is it not a man’s job to deal with buildings etc? “. It can be extremely difficult to be taken seriously when female in meetings whereby the majority of the people involved are male and of an older generation. Often women in these situations are not given the respect deserved or required. This is a concept that bewilders many women entering the profession to experience should ‘backward thinking’ in the 21st Century.

It has sadly become apparent however that ‘sexism’, and even ‘ageism’ is still very much a regular occurrence within the planning profession itself. This aspect of exclusion within the profession can only be overcome by increased awareness from having direct contact with female planning officers. I feel also it is a generation change, whereby through time, when today’s younger generations are older, it will not be as big an issue as it tends to be the older generations that are least aware.

This is not the situation for all older generations of course. As Thomas 1997 states we need to reject the view of ethnicity, which ignores identities and bases its categories on ‘origin’ histories and national inheritance, and instead should incorporate work, gender and sexuality into the equation too. Another type of social exclusion aside from race and gender is those individuals that are termed by society as ‘disabled’. Thomas, 1992 discusses how anti-racism and anti-sexism appear to have been higher on the political agenda than disability.

In Planning however there is a greater emphasis towards accessibility to all by making new developments easily accessible to the physically challenged/disabled individuals of society. Thomas believes that planners should also be aware of how handicap in the built environment relates to the rest of the lives of disabled people. A publication by a disabled woman was written which demonstrates how essential it is in practical terms for disabled people to be involved in the policy making process if it is to be sensitive to their needs. (Thomas 1992). A survey by the OPCS devised a way of categorising different types of disabled people.

The sectors were ‘Impairment’ (parts or systems of the body do not work), ‘Disability’ where people cannot do certain things, and ‘Handicap’, where an individual is disadvantaged. This is not a accurate division at all, as within the sectors there is so much variety. It is also ignorant and inaccurate to try to categorise people in such a way as it may be argued that any form of disability could fall into all of these categories and people who are not judged by society to be disabled may not be able to do some things which again would fall into some of these categories.

For example people that are partially sighted can wear contact lenses and still perform all normal daily routine yet they do have impairment. Society, however, would not judge them to be the same as others that may fall under the impairment category. Accessibility in the built environment has a social stigma attached. Planners may judge people as being handicapped if for example they cannot walk. Attitudes need to be changed to realise that a person who cannot walk is not necessarily handicapped, it is the layout of the built environment that handicaps the person by making places inaccessible to them.

This is a very important point and crucial to the future of planning against social exclusion. Having carried out an experiment in where an able bodied colleague spent 3 days in a wheel chair and attempted to carry out normal daily activities, it became apparent how unaware the able bodied members of society are to the challenges disabled people face every day. In particular meticulous planning was carried out to find a route that was entirely ‘wheelchair friendly’ and as a result journey times became much longer.

There were not only physical challenges but also mental challenges to be contended with as it became more and more apparent how differently people would interact with a wheel chair user, resulting in lack of confidence, the feeling of being patronised and even helplessness. It would seem, therefore, that the Planning system may be blamed for the social exclusion of the disabled, but can it be blamed for the social exclusion of certain ethnic groups?.


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