Making sense of the city: a record of past posts

Coping with complex issues
My postings cover various urban themes.

The imperative - and perils - of simplification:
Its easiest to make decisions using limited information.  Otherwise we risk information overload, buried in detail and unable to make decisions. 

Simplification is how people who plan and govern cities cope with complexity. That's how I treat this blog - each post aims to simplify a complex issue. 
Of course, reality isn't simple.  Cities are messy.  Change is driven by politic currents and prejudgement as much as by plans.  It is shaped by institutions and vested interests, the values they embody, and the relationships they maintain. 

Another problem is that the issues policy makers deal with are all interconnected.  Responding to one with a plan or regulation may have unexpected and not necessarily welcome effects on another.

So while we simplify to make difficult problems easier we shouldn't rely on simplistic assumptions about which plans and regulations will work and which won't.  Otherwise:
  • apparently  good decisions turn bad because they are based on inadequate information;
  • decisions made in the public interest may end up favouring particular private interests; or
  • decisions that look sound when they are made fail to deliver; or
  • the unexpected outcomes of acting on weak decisions leave us worse off.
From governance to policy implementation
There are connections between governance (which is about setting objectives and directions with authority), decision-making (defining the actions and identifying the resources necessary to achieve objectives), management (deploying the skills and resources to implement  decisions), and implementation (making the investment and undertaking any operations required to fulfil the objectives). 

These connections need to be made explicit if we are to understand and influence how cities might develop.  

Here's how I see some of the links.

Connecting governance with action:
Local democracy is a precondition to good local governance in the public realm.  This means that good governance relies on sound constitutional and institutional arrangements for conferring and exercising power.  
Exercising power reasonably relies on sound decision-making and effective implementation.  In cities this relies on effective political and administrative engagement with communities  backed by efficient and effective administrative structures.
Even with the right processes , good decisions are elusive, as competing disciplines, professions, experiences, and ideologies are brought to bear.  No-one in urban affairs is free of the personal and professional values that shape their thinking. The analyses we do and the information we use are conditioned by our experiences and expectations and in turn shape the outcomes we pursue and how we pursue them.

Hence the need for transparency as well as engagement - enabling interested parties to contribute to and understand why important decisions are taken and by whom.  
This means civic decisions rely on consensus.  This raises challenges.  Professional consensus, for example, may simply be a prop for decisions that fall short on the evidence front. Public consensus may mean finding  a path between what is "technically" appropriate and what communities want.
One way of getting good outcomes is to ensure decisions are at least consistent with the evidence we do have and that this can be demonstrated to a wide range of stakeholders. 

Evidence-based planning:
All of this means weighing up the evidence most  relevant to the issues and context - in other words a particular place and time - and ensuring that we are dealing with matters we can actually  influence for the better.  
If we get everything right  - governance, objective setting. decision making, managing plans, and sound investment, financial, and operating procedures  -  we should see  communities, economies, and cities prosper. 

This  thinking lies  behind how I look at the city and its hinterland, and the way I have  grouped my posts below.
The Posts

Urbanisation and the City
From Connection to Dispersal: Urbanisation in the 21st Century City, 14 April 2012
Organisation and decision making
Think big – the sequel 5 November 2010
Paris in the Antipodes  31 October 2010
Beyond the urban edge

No comments: