We are confronting a global crisis fuelled by environmental conditions compromised by anthropogenic activities and mirrored worldwide by the planetary extension of urbanization processes. As a consequence, urban research, planning, and design are called to play a relevant role in evaluating possible courses of action and ways out through imaginative power. The current circumstances, however, impose to seek lines of action in conditions of great instability impacting life, society, economy, and space. Such instability is not simply contingent but predictably intended to increase in the future.
As anticipated by Donald Schön in “Beyond the stable state” as early as 1971, globalization and the now evident limits of development demonstrates how the state of stability is lost.
The question “How to plan in a world of uncertainty?” has become particularly urgent. An updated epistemology of our professional practice is needed, oriented towards more flexible, adaptive, procedural, and designed modes. Planning approaches such as strategic planning and contingency planning appear to be more suitable to use the intelligence through which individuals and groups produce “negative ability” (Lanzara 1993), that is the ability to accept and experience uncertainty, disorientation, and to know how to grasp possibilities for action to field in the moment of disaster. This posture echoes Hirschman’s practice-oriented theory of possibilism soliciting to search for latent resources even in difficult situations. Such a theoretical approach drawn on critical analysis of World Bank development projects in the southern hemisphere pushes to work on the possible rather than the probable to collectively organizing reactions, planning responses, and reconstructed in ways that do not recreate the fragile situations that led to the upheaval.
Where else to search for the answers to the question “How to plan in a world of uncertainty?” that in those contexts historically forced to cope with fragility, precariousness, and uncertainty, i.e. the many “south” of the world?
Where problems are concentrated, that capacity of reaction in catastrophic situations named as ”preparedness” (Lakoff, 2007; 2017) can be more surprisingly found. A critical analysis of the unexpected preparedness capacity of southern contexts could contribute to “planning for uncertainty”, not an oxymoron, but an approach that acknowledges the realities and urgency of creating change in the face of complex crisis to design subversive scenarios of the dysfunctional systems that caused the crisis itself.
Two decades after its first congress, N-AERUS chooses to celebrate its anniversary and to retrace its own history by confronting itself with a complex, yet indispensable issue:
It is not so much a question of planning the solution, but of developing the ability to invent a solution suited to the particular form in which the problem can manifest itself. While crises are a disruptive force, they do question the validity of existing systems and developmental patterns and support the creation of new solutions. Planning should, therefore, learn to use these “fractures” to promote radical change for a more sustainable future. To begin addressing such questions, it seems crucial to imagine differently, approaches as of what Anna Tsing calls “collaborative survival” – co-inhabited with various other species – and Donna Haraway calls “response-ability”. Both definitions referring to the capacity of responding responsibly and with care for the worlds, we co-inhabit on a wounded terrain.
The conference hence calls for direct and collaborative planning experiences and practices demonstrating unforeseen and innovative “preparedness” to situations of uncertainty in the various souths of the world, beyond the North-South divide. The aim is both to highlight them and to put them in contact to strengthen a further collective capacity-building process to planning modes able to cope with uncertainty. We are particularly interested in contributions showing distinctive traits of knowledge and actions in coping with the situation of uncertainty and collecting examples of practices/strategies on how to bridge the gap between different spheres of solidarity, knowledge, and production.
Submissions for individual papers related to the following session themes are welcomed.
N-AERUS and the Habitat Unitat the Technical University Berlin jointly organized the conference " How to plan in a world of uncertainty?". The book of abstracts and following papers are available for download.