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International Socialism, Autumn 1966


Alan Mather

Middle-Class Planners


From International Socialism, No.26, Autumn 1966, p.36.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The City Planning Process: A Political Analysis
Alan A. Altshuler
Cornell University Press, $8.50

This work is a critical analysis of what city planners do. It reviews planning experiences in Minneapolis and St Paul and draws some general conclusions about the limitations, frustrations and potentialities of technicians engaged in planning work in the United States.

The author makes case studies of the actions and attitudes of groups with relation to four projects: an automobile freeway, selection of a site for a hospital, a land-use plan for St Paul, and a plan for central Minneapolis.

Case studies are ordinarily painful for the reader, and the ones in this book don t spare the pilgrims who may have trudged through other books on planning. However, conclusions reached in the last third of the book make the journey seem worthwhile. To me, the case studies indicate that the most successful planners fit in, don’t stir up controversy and don’t stick their necks out.

At the end of the book, the question of professionalism versus an easy adjustment to existing political and money power is raised. There is a friendly nod to-uards English experience and the customary reverent nods toward Lewis Mumford and Winston Churchill. This means that there is the usual call for boldness on the part of those who, because of education or class background, are expected to be bold. The question is asked, how can planners function in a democracy? But so many horrendous facts in the case studies lead to a realisation that this is not democracy. There are timorous leaders and the driven. There are planners and city councilmen as subjects, on top of the heap, and there are Negro neighbourhoods that are objects, at the bottom. I cannot see that the author does more than ask how an existing elite can improve its ‘leadership.’

Middle-class people cannot even sense the tyranny of their own minds. We don’t truly understand how our dominance is maintained. We form a neatly locked aristocracy and a mass of camp followers – with only a vague realisation of the regimentation which we both promote and endure. And in no field of work does this middle-class blindness show up more than in ‘city planning.’ In one place in this book it is told how city planners deliberately avoided contacts with people in the poorer neighbourhoods. This avoidance was not explicit or deliberate: it was made possible through an administrative technique. City planning agencies across the country carefully shoved work in the field of ‘housing’ toward specialised agencies. It is all done with mirrors, with administrative shuffles and a whole mess of automatic reactions.

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