#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #25 ACSP Week: Linda Dalton

This week we are off to ACSP, where I must wear a badge of shame for failing to finish my paper. However, that means that I drop out of a five-person theory session, and that means everybody else gets more time, and that’s needed in a five-person session. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I proposed 5 people in the session, but I am sure I had a theory. Ha! See what I did there? Bad theory.

Anyhoodily, this week the organization is handing out awards and that fits nicely with my #ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 theme. This year’s recipient of the Margarita McCoy Award is Linda Dalton. I can’t find a web page for her; she’s listed in the program as being at Cal Poly East Bay, but I can’t find her on their faculty page. If somebody has a lead on that, please shoot me the link in the comments.

(Ask the internets and ye shall receive. Here is a link to Dr. Dalton’s page.)

From the ACSP website, here is the write up of the McCoy award:

Recognizes individuals who have made an outstanding contribution toward the advancement of women in planning at institutions of higher education through service, teaching, and/or research. The Margarita McCoy Award is made by the ACSP Faculty Women’s Interest Group.’

Here is the committee’s write-up from the program:

Linda Dalton was selected as this year’s McCoy Award recipient due to the exceptional leadership qualities she has demonstrated during her distinguished career and, in particularly, the outstanding mentorship role she has played for many women in higher education in planning. In addition to her own distinguished career in planning, she has worked tirelessly to improve faculty diversity in planning programs and serves as a role model for women in higher education. ~ Hilary Nixon, Chair, FWIG Award Committee, 2014

The paper I thought I’d discuss here is a paper from 1986 entitled:

Dalton, Linda 1986. Why the Rational Paradigm Persists — The Resistance of Professional Education and Practice to Alternative Forms of Planning. Journal of Planning Education and Research April 1986 5: 147-153, doi:10.1177/0739456X8600500302

First of all, we need to comment on the throwback three column format and HOW MUCH I LOVE IT.

That said, the motivating question behind Dalton’s paper is a good one: by 1986, we’d loads and loads of planning theory that had reacted to the mistakes of rational modernist planning, like urban renewal, and had tried to reformulate planning in alternative terms. This created quite a bit of disjoin between theory and practice because rational planning still dominated most forms of practice. I think that’s true today still.

Dalton’s explanation is a good one, too:

Taken together, utilitarian and logical positivist notions of rationality constitute both a process for making decisions and a set of underlying characteristics or assumptions upon which choices are made: objectivity, analysis and efficiency.

The emphasis is in the original.

That is, the question of the public interest is a real thing, and the process of trying to suss it is an important thing, and while the particular methods and values embodied in logical positivism might have problems, the need to explore the public interest never goes away, unless, like Maggie Thatcher, you just up and decide there is no such thing.

Dalton develops this argument by examining both the practice and the profession of planning, noting the various ways in which rationality and its attendant themes drive the market for professionals that in, turn, influences the culture of the practice. Ulrich Beck, Scott Lash, and Anthony Giddens later work through how these themes play out in larger sociological processes way beyond planning in their description of reflexive modernization.

Dalton warned that planners’ adherence to rationalist principles contains the seeds of the profession’s destruction in that despite all the claims and production of technical material, problems persist and undermine the credibility of the claims to technical expertise. In the place of rationality, Dalton suggestions the practice of public reason.

In the decades following, we would have a lot of planning theory that grapples with the problems: Flyvbjerg would connect rationality to power, and the process of rationalization, for one important contribution.

But planners still have this problem: if we aren’t producing technical material, what is the role of the profession? Planning as something people rather than professionals, do, well, that’s a thing, and it does not promise outcomes necessarily. Planner as something a person can be, as a professional who can be paid because they are doing something special in planning…that’s a different idea entirely. The persistence of social ills can hardly be laid at the foot of rationalist planning; modernist planning might have been overly ambitious in its claims, but it’s not like any revision can necessarily solve the problem, as it’s just way too much of a straw man to expect any one approach or profession to alleviate the ‘mirage’ aspects of Enlightenment thought that set up the idea of social perfectibility in the first place. Let’s not plan, then, and let things go, since social ills can’t be ‘solved.’ Or let’s revise the notion of the profession: hands up, who wants to be small and marginal and claim dominion over the easy-to-implement and socially stabilizing things (bike lanes) so that we can boost our prestige as a profession, and forget about things like poverty since that’s hard?