Go read Andrew Whittemore’s overview of his new article in Planetizen

Planetizen has highligted a nice piece from JPER from Andrew Whittemore on how practitioners use planning theory.

“Practitioners Theorize Too: Reaffirming Planning Theory in a Survey of Practitioners’ Theories” demonstrates the relevance of theory to practice by exploring what how practitioners have theorized through their own words in practitioner-authored texts that reveal parallels between academic theories and accessible real-world lessons. The article does this through a historical exercise: comparing academic theories of planning procedure developed between the late 1950s and early 1980s with those that contemporary practitioners articulated in five trade journals: ASPO Newsletter (Planning from 1969), Public Management, Social Policy, Urban Land, and Environmental Comment. ASPO (American Society of Planning Officials) merged with the American Institute of Planners in the 1970s, and now forms part of APA.

And then go read the whole article, so because the link to Andrew’s article in JPER means you can download the piece for free. I do have quibbles; I’m dubious of this conclusion:

“It seems unfortunate that today’s practitioners and social scientists are re-learning the perils of dismissing lay beliefs and knowledge, rather than using them as the frames for new policy in the intractable environmental disputes of today.”

I don’t actually see much evidence to support the conclusion in the article, nor am I necessarily willing to fetishize lay beliefs–which is where a great deal of theory is. Andrew doesn’t say this, to be clear, but much theory has me rather gritting my teeth. Okey dokey, lay beliefs are to be taken seriously. Fine, but that doesn’t mean we should defer to them.

I spent nearly 10 years as a practitioner, and lay beliefs just as often were assertions of democratic preference as they were knowledge claims, and of course people know their democratic preferences better, in general, than anybody else. I don’t think that’s been ‘re-learned’; I think that’s always in the process of being learned and discovered, even among people holding the preference: what do I want to have happen here?

Ok so here’s a rant: I’m getting rather tired, actually, of everybody urging me to respect lay beliefs. There are lot of smart people in the world; there are a lot of stupid people in the world; and there are a lot of selfish people in the world. Knowledge claims should be tested; they should be subjected to logic and reason, and to empirical testing; all these things (reason and empirical testing) should be subjected to yet more deliberation. We have statements about beliefs everywhere asserted as God’s own true knowledge/pure gold: about human nature, about the climate, about Black people, about what God wants, about what is ‘natural’, about how the world works.

According to lay belief, we have to have lots of business parking to prevent spillovers into my neighborhood. Come on.

Jenny McCarthy is an expert on vaccines, you know. Tom Cruise an expert on mental illness. And all of us have some aspects of Tom and Jenny in at least some of the things we hold about the world–I’m sure I probably believe dumb things about something, but I can’t list them because I just don’t know my own blind spots. The point of study and reflection and critique is to develop depth, and we don’t all develop that depth for everything we encounter. The point of having professionals and academic disciplines is to help focus our inquiry. It doesn’t mean any one group has the answers. It just means that somebody who has expertise has taken the time to work with problems, gain experience, etc etc etc in a topic.