Introduction planning ‘guides how and where we live, work

Introduction

Abraham (2004: 22) asks whether the role of planners ‘is intolerable for most people’ and why
they ‘need to be so good’. To answer
his question, first, we needed to understand what planners do, why they need
expertise in doing their job and what makes their work so difficult that it
becomes unbearable for the majority of people. This essay will focus on the planning
profession in Romania (with comparisons to the UK) in an attempt to provide a
clear answer to this debate.

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What planners are expected
to do?

Numerous definitions of (spatial) planning can be found in
literature, as Nigel (2009)  stated ‘the truth is that there are different types
or kinds of theories, answering different kinds of questions, and not only one
type of theory is relevant to town planning.’ However, he explains that
planning exists not to be understood but ‘to
improve the world’.

Royal Town and Planning Institute (RTPI) suggests in Strategic Plannning (2015) that planning
‘guides how and where we live, work and
relax’. It states that it is the most important tool in shaping natural,
rural and urban areas as well as the country’s economic development, done by
planners together with elected members through a balancing process between
stakeholders involved. Moreover, it specifies that the result (of the planning
process) is often challengingly reached.

European Commission through Carta de la Terramolinos (1983)
document defines spatial planning as a geographical expression of economic,
social, cultural and environmental policies, being also a scientific
profession, an administrative technique and a developing policy as an
interdisciplinary approach focused on a harmonic regional development and on
physical organisation of space according to a general strategy.

In Romania, planning law states that ‘spatial planning is a mandatory activity which needs to be undertaken
through urban and regional planning’ (Romanian Regional Development Plan,
2016). These dimensions are meant to achieve a balanced spatial development
which protects the environmental and anthropic heritage and improves the
quality of life in urban and rural areas. According to the same document, the
main goal of a planner is to harmonize local, regional or national policies
having in mind economic, social, environmental and cultural development, to
safeguard a balanced development of the region and to enhance cohesion and
socio-economic relationships between regions.

It is obvious that, even if planning priorities differ from
country to country depending on their own development strategies (Flint, 2015),
a planner’s main goal would be balancing between different visions, economic or
political forces, economic perspectives etc. Therefore, we can name the spatial
planner as a ‘spatial development
harmonic balancer’. To perform this ‘balance’,
the planner is, therefore, expected to have good knowledge in a wide range of
subjects from geography, sociology and economics to politics and environment. As
Nigel (2009) suggested, normative theory – including moral and political
philosophy – is also a proper part of town planning theory. Moreover, as Healey
(1997) explained: because planners have to ‘manage
our co-existence in shared place’ they often have to negotiate
conflict-ridden situations using this knowledge to convince their position.

 

What planners
actually do?

Romania has a significant problem when it comes to absorbing
EU Regional Development funds, with only 21% absorption of funds that were available
between 2007 and 2013, and 10% for the funds available between 2014 and 2020 (POR
2014-2020, 2018). The main reason is the lack of submitted projects which is
strongly attributed to the lack of accredited planning professionals in Romania
(Deacu, 2017).

Up to now, a number of large infrastructure projects have
been identified and regional priorities have been outlined. However,
sustainable urban development cannot be achieved without a vision and an
integrated approach towards projects, and how cities can coordinate with their
main directions of action at a national and regional level without falling into
the trap of strictly following the funding priorities of the Regional
Operational Program (Romanian Regional Development Plan, 2016). On the other
hand, civil society and the private environment changes are increasingly
visible through a series of successful projects, urban interventions, urban
regeneration, education and research.

The effects can be seen in Cluj-Napoca, second largest city
in Romania. Floresti is a suburb in the west of the city, and it has
experienced the fastest growth in the number of dwellings in Romania since
1989, more than Cluj-Napoca itself or Bucharest, the capital and largest city.
The growth started before 2007 when the planning system was barely regulated.
The result was a chaotic and fast urban growth (Benedek, 2013) with a
population growth of over 250% between 2005 and 2015 (European Bank, 2015),
similar to the urban sprawl experienced in the UK in the 20s and 30s.

Without proper plans to support such a fast growth, and because
a lack of communication between the local councils, the two cities are still
connected by only one road which is also the main entry point to Cluj-Napoca
from the motorway. The consequence is chronic traffic jams not only during rush
hour but during most of the day as well. Even more worryingly, the stretch of
road experiences the highest number of road accidents in the whole country as a
direct consequence to the lack of urban planning states the Urban Mobility Plan
document (European Bank, 2015).

In the document, the construction of a south by-pass road
and an extra westward road were planned and EU Regional Development funds are
available, however, lack of developers, planners and willing (central
government) politicians have kept the project on the shelf for at least 10
years without any progress (except two feasibility studies).

This is a common obstacle around cities in Romania, and
planners working in the public sector have complained about their main role: to
advise the politicians who themselves decide, therefore important strategic
projects are stuck within a bureaucratic system.

As stated before, another serious problem with the planning
system in Romania is a huge lack of accredited urbanists. As of 2017, there
were only 171 accredited urban planners and a bit over 1400 accredited
professionals with the chartered to work in the planning system, mostly
architects (RUR DATABASE).
It is the lowest rate of chartered planners per 1000 inhabitants from the
European Countries part of the European Council of Architects. This is a
consequence of the young age of urban planning as a profession in Romania with the
first planning school opening in 1997. improving planning system in romania

Consequently, councils are usually reluctant to act against
misconduct within their planning departments, this helps to sustain one of the
most serious problems in Romania: corruption.

As an example, according to a newspaper paper , in August last
year, in Galati, a city in the east of Romania by the Danube river, a story was
written about the chief architect’s dubious planning approval process. The
chief architect, who has power over the implementation of development plans and
planning applications, was involved in a conflict of interest situation. Her husband
had a construction firm who suspiciously had 100% planning approval rate.
Sometimes, certain big developments were refused planning application or asked
a long series of conditions. Due to this, even large companies preferred to
contract with her husband’s company in order to get a streamlined construction
process.

This has been known since 2013, however, the mayor has not
done anything to address the issue and explained that there are government agencies
responsible for overseeing public administration misconduct, refusing any personal
liability. Until this day, the agency responsible for overseeing this kind of
misconduct (ANI) has not taken any action against the chief architect.

By September 2017, she requested her transfer which was
approved by the mayor, hence, Galati continued without a chief architect until
late November with planning applications stranded with no progress for months.
This is a perfect example of how corruption can have a huge negative impact on
the local economy. resurse
pagina we galatiul far architect sef

Nonetheless, Romania is not the only country experiencing
corruption within the planning system. In UK large-scale corruption cases which
concerned the planning system are well-known: cases like Donnygate and Paulsen
(XXX). These schemes involved a network of developers, planners and elected
members, they, together contributed to acts of corruption, misconduct, dubious
planning application approvals or changes in Unitary Development Plans. Ken burley Campbell 2006
corruption in Doncaster

In the UK, RTPI code of conduct guards the profession
against misconduct and it has numerous cases of planning certificate withdrawals
which seriously affects one’s career. Hence, it is a strong incentive for
probity. In Romania however, the Romanian Register of Urbanists (RUR) oversees
this sorts of misconduct but has, in very few cases, withdrawn accreditation
from urbanists. RUR
Database

Romanian planners often find themselves in a very difficult
position personally and professionally, they often deal with lengthy and
complicated projects, lack of, or unreliable data, and not seldom, being
chicaned by bureaucracy XXXX.
Added to this, there is a public frustration for the lack of progress and a
general mistrust in the public administration fueled by the constant news of
incompetence within the members of the government.

In these
cases, numerous planners decided to switch from public sector to private sector
however, in Romania, the demand for planners in private sector is very limited
xx and is added to the temptation of receiving fast material gain.

Because they balance many different
forces they carry a big responsibility and (like doctors) can have huge impact
on livelihoods of numerous people (thousands) (economy, health, safety). That
is why in Uk they are expected to behave according to a code of ethics set by
RTPI :

How planners do what
they do?

In making decisions or plans, Romanian urbanists (and
professionals in general) tend to be biased towards European principles that
are well-proven. Nevertheless, as critics of these principles do exist,  good professionals need to investigate the
data and information without prior expectation of the end result. As planners
need to research in their decision-making process, they also should be
open-minded with the outcomes of their research. (Antony 1993, 206 from epistemology reflexive practitioner)

On the other hand, prior to the start of a research (for the
use of development plan, or in decision-making) the planner professional needs
to possess an assumption over what he is to be researching, because, as Saaroski (2002) stated in
(Boyd 1995 epistemology)
‘without these prior beliefs and
background assumptions, scientific inquiry would not get off the ground in the
first place’. However, he argues that one’s beliefs, values and political
inclination shouldn’t dictate what research or literature to use.

Knowing this, Squires (2005) argues that planners need to ‘fine-tune’ different aspects accordingly
to each different situation. They accomplish this through the use of good
quality and reliable data. Using literature, data, case studies and their own
knowledge they need to analyse the information and use it correspondingly.

Geolocated data sets, base maps, or general statistical data
available to all administrative units are essential in helping the planning
process (David J., 2005).
Yet, Romania has the most reduced availability of geographic data between EU
countries.same source
improvement of spatial planning in Romania

Because of the lack of quality data, many planners in
Romania rely sometimes on data from the communist period and,  in rare cases, even Austro-Hungary topology
maps source.
Furthermore, land parcellation documents are frequently inaccurate with cases
of overlapping land parcels. The consequence is a time-consuming court case
which establishes the details of ownership before anything can be planned on
that specific site and results in obsolete or inaccurate development plans.source

The consequence is that many Romanian urbanists have a low
job satisfaction XXX
 and have sometimes found themselves in
Nagel’s dilemma of dirty hands (War and Massacre?) , it is a choice between one’s values and
principles and avoiding a looming catastrophe. Walzer(wk3) states that the problem of dirty hands
is a central feature in politics, and since politics dictates so many planning
decisions these kinds of problems leak into the planning community as well not
only in Romania but in most of the countries too.

Adrian Ibanescu, a chief planner in Brasov, has found
himself contemplating between the opposing forces within Nagel’s dilemma in 2008 when he received a
planning application for the construction of a DIY supplies superstore on a
site that also contained a small protected green area. Normal procedure would
require a lengthy process of changing uses that had to be also approved by the
central government. Knowing this, the superstore offered him and other
officials within the council a big sum through a middleman to ‘help’ streamline
the planning process. When Mr Ibanescu refused, he received insults from few of
his colleagues in the council and was threatened to be sacked. He resigned but
not before he refused the planning application. ziare.ro

As xxxxx
explained in his book, Mr Ibanescu chose to be a planning missionary fighting
for what he considered was honest even though he put his career at risk and has
been only rewarded by his personal fulfilment. Sadly, in most cases, chief
planners choose the other option being pressured by material constraints, low
job satisfaction and bureaucracy. xxxx

However, since some argue that planning as a profession is
going through an identity crisis source city lab it is necessary to for planners maintain
probity etc. Especially now, when the tendency in the planning system in most
of the developed countries is to transfer most, if not all, of the central
planning power and responsibilities to city councils and private companies, the
importance of planners is even more important; Planners are the link or the
buffer-zone between profit-driven developers and the common interest of the
wider public.

x

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