Impact of Globalisation on the Role of Planners


“Globalisation can be defined as the increasing interconnectedness of people, places, institutions, production, trade, and finance in real time throughout the world and its biosphere” (Afshar, Pezzoli, 2001, p. 277). Globalisation has both its advantages and disadvantages, and it has made a growing impact on planning as a discipline. Planning practice has become more proactive and responsive including research methods and pedagogy, making a planner’s role more challenging. As a planner, it is important to study how globalization interacts with planning using the comparative method. This is possible by knowledge sharing and opening up with different ideas, experiences and local cultural values among planners. To make globalization work, learning from such diverse experiences is essential for planners to understand what can be global and what can be local or meaningful only in particular places and cultures (Afshar, Pezzoli, 2001). Planning is, therefore, fundamentally international in character with broad-minded approach to cross-border planning policies and projects which require the convergence of some basic skills and aptitude amongst the town planners. Three key influences will steer town planning into the 21st century, and all three are rooted in globalization. They are economic recession, environmental resources and multicultural society or plurality (Blowers, Evans, 1997). Specialist planners with creative vision and intellect help to find solutions to these challenges of globalization. They achieve this by focusing on specialized fields of planning such as regeneration, housing, public health, transportation, conservation of heritage structures and sustainable development etc. (APA, 2015). However, there are barriers in implementing these plans, and planners have to play a managerial role overcoming strong influences of power and politics in planning (Wheeler, 2004). In this article, we will see the changing roles of planners due to globalization in the 21st century and study how they can contribute to the society as a whole.

Currently, globalisation has put us in a crisis situation because of the adverse changes that are happening in an incremental fashion in our day to day life and they are hardly discussed by media, politicians or most citizens. The crisis is in various forms which include misguided physical development like freeways, malls, commercial strips, and office parks that cover vast quantities of land and forms the daily reality for many of us. Heavy migration to cities has led to rise in traffic congestion and over dependency on the automobile. Giant global corporates have thrashed the small local business economy which is a socially responsible economy. This leads to crisis of growing poverty and inequality and leaves a number of people worldwide without access to decent paying work, good schools, health care or other necessities of life. Housing issues in terms of scarcity, unaffordability, design, and location also prevail.  Environmental issues are equally critical leading to phenomena such as global warming, resource depletion, and the loss of species that are difficult or impossible to reverse (Wheeler, 2004). According to Wheeler “All these problems are interrelated and though much effort is underway to address them, they are not being acknowledged by current politicians and planners, and must be tackled in a far more comprehensive way if we have to heal the damage of the past and head in a positive direction in future” (Wheeler, 2004, p.2). Let us discuss how a planner’s role is important in overcoming these issues which are rooted in globalization.

Economic Recession and Planners:

Role of Planners
Role of Planners

Related: Sustainable Urban Planning Course

Firstly, at the time of economic recession, town planners need to take corrective actions and function in a much different way than, when the economy is strong. There is a strategic dimension to town planning and planners identify, promote and protect key sites and resources from the uncertainties that a competitive and unplanned market would create. They need imagination and confidence to see new opportunities, the ability to communicate such possibilities, and skills of persuasion and negotiation to make their position stronger in a weak bargain (Blower, Evans, 1997). They help in mobilizing financial resources such as voluntary initiatives and intangibles. Planner’s role extends to broader issues of unemployment, living standards, inequality, and poverty, family life, and health. The green agenda in this century is at the center stage for the planners as it is directly linked with the quality of life and they focus on creating jobs through environmental conservation and sustainable development. Planner’s creativity and imaginative ideas at these crucial times are essential (Blowers, Evans, 1997). Other than these managerial, public planning process-oriented roles; planners serve as technical experts. It is obligatory for a planner to be more than just a detached manager, and has to pay close attention to the results of the process and to facilitate public understanding and political action (Wheeler, 2004).

In order to revive economy affected due to the recession, planners have diverse roles to play which also includes creating a broad vision for the community. Various urban waterfront development projects such as London Docklands, Kop van Zuid in Rotterdam, and Ceramique project in Maastricht are the examples of such broad vision. They enhance the image of a particular place in response to the competitive global markets. Growing number of communities offer examples of development that are socially and economically healthy. The downtown revitalization of Portland, Oregon, the transit system of Paris, Toronto and Curitiba, Brazil, the pedestrian districts of Copenhagen and most other European cities, the democratic budgeting process of Puerto Alegre, Brazil, the ecological waste treatment marsh of Arcata, California. These examples offer hope for the future and suggest that appropriate actions of planners help in a constructive development of a region (Wheeler, 2004).

Global environmental consciousness and planners:

Secondly, In case of environmental resources global trend has observed a rise in global consciousness and it is clearly seen in global environmental policies. Since the 1980s, within planning discipline, there has been a growing concern among planners about global environmental issues such as destruction of forests, depletion of minerals and fisheries, air pollution, and the over-exploitation of fossil fuels. The discovery of the ‘hole’ in the ozone layer above the Antarctic in 1985 was an eye opener in promoting a global environmental consciousness. Small increases in these harmful gases were sufficient to lead to far-reaching environmental changes, such as increased photochemical smog in high sun areas, acid rain, and depletion of ozone in the stratosphere (Kiely, 2005). In response to this, at the global level planning discipline implicated powerful spatial policies, with international obligations. The example being The International Kyoto Protocol, which extends the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that commits responsibility of all the nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Planners thus came up with environmental policies in the spatial planning system for monitoring and controlling this environmental disaster.

Related: Socio-Economic Impact

However, the global climate regime, as represented by the Kyoto Protocol, did not go hand in hand with the global trade policy regime, as represented by the WTO (World Trade Organization). There is a fear amongst planners that international trade will adversely affect the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as there is an imbalance between developing countries and OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries contributing to global emissions. India, China, and other developing countries produce two-thirds of global emissions compared to only one-fourth produced by OECD countries. These fears have now become prominent in the policy-making process. Planners need to respond to these fears of global climate change and derive some intelligent international environmental policies. However, it will only be possible with sincere and assertive participation from the developing countries (Harvard Kennedy School, 2008). Other than this, environmental planners address issues related to climate change, plan for rural areas, protection of our coastlines and rivers, management of our lakes and waterways, conservation of parks and gardens, waste reduction, energy efficiency, and sustainability. They also cover forest management and other natural resource protection at a micro level. (Wheeler, 2004)

Thus, within the spatial planning system, they have a number of different roles to play at different times and situations. Planners often serve as process organizers, they initiate planning efforts and keeping them on schedule. To ensure that the final results are achieved, they have to facilitate meetings and workshops. Planners may work to negotiate and break compromise between various powerful interests. Thus, they act as a political organizer, for represented constituencies to be heard within the process, and spread the information amongst the groups of people who need it, so that they can understand and participate in resolving the issues of a particular nature. Planners motivate communities as visionaries, cheerleaders whose dramatic speeches inspire communities to take action (Wheeler, 2004). They need to get involved in the planning process at entrepreneurial capacity as they have to navigate through institutional and political bureaucracies and advance the debate in a most constructive and positive manner despite the risks being involved. Such mediation proves to be worthwhile in terms of producing small- or large-scale movement towards sustainable communities (Wheeler, 2004). According to Wheeler “All these roles are important at different times. Hitting the right balance in all cases tends to require substantial experience, diplomacy, initiative, communicative abilities, humor, and understanding of situations”. (Wheeler, 2004, p.51, 52)

Planning and cultural diversity
Cultural diversities and planners

Planning and cultural diversity

Thirdly, Plural and diverse communities of the 21st century are the product of global market forces.  The flourishing international youth culture is an obvious example of the way market economy has substituted the traditional local economy. As a result of this, open labor markers have drawn ethnic minority communities into the cities. The tourist industry is boosting, with planners involved in making better places.  Heterogeneity will, therefore, be an increasingly significant feature of the cities as we entre the new millennium. Planners need to accommodate these diverse cultural backgrounds into planning policies (Blowers, Evans, 1997). According to  Blowers and Evans  “Race and poverty are interlinked dimensions of the increasing plurality of the city – gender, area, disability, age, sexual orientation are others and illustrate the challenges that town planners will face” (Blowers, Evans, 1997, p. 141).

Let us see some examples of how planners interact with such multicultural societies. The spread of capitalism and a worldwide communication infrastructure gave ethnic minority groups opportunity to showcase their identity claims before a global audience. Therefore, urban planners in North America and Europe need to accommodate ethnocultural groups in the framing of urban planning and policy making. Increasing demands of such a multicultural population is a point of concern for these countries. Migrants from non-European countries have made this problem acute in the last several decades. To address this issue, planners have changed their view by seeing people as public citizens with equal rights, making rational decisions contributing to the welfare of the society as a whole. In such a liberal democratic view, people tend to participate with broad-minded approach towards common good (Burayidi, 2003). However, there are also issues associated with planning in multicultural societies

Everywhere labor markets moved from poorer countries to richer counties. Minority population started becoming more assertive in demanding that town planning and urban policy to serve their needs. The anti-globalisation movement started creeping in as there was heightened conflict about urban development. Buravidi observed, “Ethnically polarised societies such as in Northern Ireland, Israel and South Africa faced major inequalities in resource allocation and power imbalance among ethnocultural groups” (Buravidi, 2003, p. 259). Therefore, planners saw the comfort in professional technicality and regulatory control rather than finding solutions to the pressing issues raised by these groups. The major riots broke out in Los Angles in 1992 due to racist practices by the public authority. At the end of the World War II Europe experienced the most massive migrations as the ideology of ‘ethnic cleansing’ forced a large number of immigrants from the  former Yugoslavia. Recession and the end of communism saw a renaissance of fascism in former East Germany. As a result, the ethnic minority population were on the receiving end of street violence (Blowers, Evans, 1997). The role of the planner is such cases is to understand the issues that lead to rioting and compare them to the current affairs of their area and find a balanced solution for the better communities (Kramer, 2009).

Planning is an evolutionary process and it is a collective result of complex bureaucratic procedures, political ideologies, local and global economies and multicultural society. Some planners only focus on some specialized areas such as transportation planning, environmental planning, real estate development, heritage and conservation etc. They use various data collection methods to collect data and evidence before preparing the plan. They also research, design, and develop programs; lead public processes; affect social change; perform technical analysis; manage; and educate. Planners help the community and its various groups to identify their goals and prepare strategies to implement the plan by enforcing it in coordination with many groups of people.  Planners need to address growing concerns regarding sustainable communities. These concerns are satisfied with the help of plans that can take a variety of forms including policy recommendations, community action plans, comprehensive plans, neighborhood plans, regulatory and incentive strategies, or historic preservation plans. Other examples of plans include redevelopment plans, smart growth strategies, economic development strategic plans, site plans, and disaster preparedness plans etc. (APA, 2015)


Lastly, the paradigm shift to globalization in planning, possess a severe challenge to planners. Role of planners needs to be redefined, enhancing their traditional strengths and eradicating their traditional weaknesses under changing circumstances. There are two ways in which planning interacts with globalization. One way is to adjust to the changing conditions and the other way is to attack the roots of the current deterioration and improve upon the social conditions. Accepting the latter view implies the re-emphasis of the political role of the planners. Therefore the planners interact within the governmental apparatus to work towards reducing or eliminating unequal power structures between social groups and classes. A planner has to confront his strong opinions about certain outcomes as opposed to others, for the interests of some groups over others, for some styles of governance, for some conceptions of justice, some patterns of future development and so on. Beyond these boundaries, Planners have to operate in close collaboration with other actors in the decision-making process and target groups. In short, it is necessary for structural conditions to determine the role of planners and other actors to comprehend their interest and power relations. (Albrechts, 1991).

No matter what planning theory we apply, it is important to understand the nature and dynamics of power as it is essential for successful planning at any level. It is extremely difficult to change the existing system of any government in relation to the various political and financial interest. It is observed that over many decades these interests have shaped public opinion, the news media, and the culture itself in a certain direction. They form the basis for the materialistic cultures and a certain national identity. Therefore, for global planners, it is essential to work with various groups inside and outside government to ensure that sufficient political backing exists in order to implement change. This process requires enormous time and effort to help this context evolve towards a situation which is more democratic, community-oriented, and open to addressing current environmental and social problems. In the meanwhile, as Wheeler comments “Planners can seek the opportunity to build constituencies for small-scale near term improvements while working for long-term structural change and social learning” (Wheeler, 2004, p.51).

Also Read: Planning Process Without Planners


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