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thumb strategicStrategic Spatial Projects: Catalysts for Change is focused upon the transformative nature of strategic spatial change for urban planning. The book weaves between design and strategic potential, with a goal of achieving sustainable systems in urban planning. The material asserts that technological plannig alone is not enough, nor urban planning based on competitive business outcomes. Instead, it suggests that spatial quality in terms of how urban areas function is the central force of success. Toward this end, socio-economic benefits must emerge through strategic planning efforts – and these need to take significant new ways of thinking.


Strategic Spatial Projects: Catalysts for Change 

Edited by 

Stijn Oosterlynck, Jef Van den Broeck, Louis Albrechts, Frank Moulaert, Ann Verhetsel

ISBN:  978-0-415-56684-1
238 pages – Published: 2011


Review by Jeff Thurston

Strategic Spatial Planning asserts that current planning approaches are not equipped to deal with the rapid, complex and sociological nature of urban planning today. Traditional mathods and approaches for planning are both outdated and ill-equipped to meet present challenges. This is attributed to various factors, although too much of an administrative focus and a focus highly linked to competitive business interaction between projects is missing the mark. 

Written for spatial planning, urban design, community development and policy studies professionals, the editors state, “we therefore propose to see strategic spatial planning not as a single concept or procedure, but as a method for collectively re-imagining the possible futures of particular places and translating these into concrete priorities and action programmes.” Thus, a holistic or systems approach to not only planning, but understanding, is needed and this approach is dynamic and changing as it interacts with different actors and interested organisations. 

Planning must move from the common viewpoint that an end-point is the goal or reached to an understanding that the process leading to change, influenced by larger numbers of actors and interests will instill continuous spatial planning. Under this scenario, the concept of planning is oriented to ward what might become – the potential – encapsulating urban planning.  Visioning and visualisation becomes an integral part of this new approach where the central idea is to qualify space.  What a space might become, could become, transcends what it is now and how its current administration exists. 

The editors argue that competitive design today causes cities to compete on the basis of growth alone, rather than designing and building sustainable cities in their own right. Competition in this regard is resulting in a focus on high publicity, as compared to designing for good spaces and their spatial quality.  Current project-based approaches assume start and end states, often following logical progessions in standard ways. However, the book argues, what is needed is an increase in awareness and willingness to engage participants across a spectrum of social needs, mixing and blending their thoughts and solidifying their percpetions, want, desires and how they see potential use of spaces. 

Chapter 2 is oriented toward the transformative nature of urban planning. Changing populations, often aging, result in different needs from spaces. In addition, as business cycles decline (ie. brownfields) then land becomes available for re-thinking and re-shaping toward future use. “Transformative projects refuse to accept that current use and allocations are necessarily the best way forward.” 

This has important impacts where spatial tools are involved, because a focus on tools alone only results in an analytical result based on current realities and available data placed into tools. However, these same tools can be used to develop potentials and new ideas, but they require new thinking and openness to changed governance and a willingness to think out of the box. Additonally, different tools and different perceptions of spatial quality are often common through different eyes and different actors. There are no single solutions and no single ideas about what constitutes spatial quality. 

Lowering of the barriers to participate in spaces is an important factor for embarking along the transformative pathway. As less privileged are supported to engage with urban planning, to participate and provided with equal opportunity for experiencing the tools available, then they too are brought into the discourse and their voices heard. 

Case studies include the ‘First Quarter’ in the city of Antwerp and the Angus Locoshops site in Montreal. Each site included an integrated approach to planning that resulted in ongoing negotiations with actors before the final outcomes of transforming the spaces.

Designing the city, or rather, to perform spatial design is discussed in the book. A prominent assertion put forward by the material is the idea of negotiation surrounding spaces. On this basis a process of enablement is the ultimate goal of urban planning such that consensus is the preferred way forward. In this context, strategic periods of time alogn with political time periods where bias may also be introduced. These trajectories for use and planning of spaces may, therefore, suddenly take significant turns and changes, often aligned with funding as well.

On the other hand, formalized structures may change for spaces. This is evidenced by the cardinal directions for city-wide changes aligned to north, south, east or west. Indeed, many mapping programs can readily capture these types of land use shifts and are easily displayed in graphic forms as maps with numerous colours and cartographic elements included.  

Strategic Spatial Projects: Catalysts for Change provides a well-rounded discussion of urban planning and the process of planning for spatial design. This book sheds light on the weaknesses of current planing methods and provides clues about the considerations that need to be considered for future planning and urban development. This book serves as an excellent source for generating discussion, creating an atmosphere of open thinking and helping others to understand that their involvement in the planning process is not only wanted, but needed. 

The wealth of experience, education and knowledge that the editors bring to the content of this book is very positive. Supported with case studies and background details, readers, students and educators will find this book effective for both learning and teaching. While social factors are not new to the planning process, this book often links socio.economic considerations to the process, rather than leaving them alone as is often seen. For this reason, the editors have done a good job of connecting the dots to inform about urban planning transformation and potential. 

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