Planners and Italo Calvino

The first few weeks of planning theory always drive the students crazy because we slosh between market-based critiques of planning and then we go to critiques of planning as a means of state control from the left. For those looking for an answer or validation for why they are school to become planners, it’s tough. The point is to help people clarify their ideas and positions.

From a wonderful book that should be required reading of all planners: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: To be in the inferno, but not of the inferno. David Sloane pointed me to it, and he is utterly right.

The last page:

Already the Great Kahn was leafing through his atlas, over the maps of the cities that menace in nightmares and maledictions: Enoch, Babylon, Yahooland, Butua, Brave New World. He said: “It is all useless, if the last land place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us.”

And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be: if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, and then make them endure, give them space.”