Anarchy in Action : Chapter 6 - Who Is To Plan?
(1924 - 2010) ~ British Anarchist Writer and Social Historian : ...lived with the title of Britain's most famous anarchist for nearly half a century, bemused by this ambivalent sobriquet. In Anarchy in Action (1973), he set out his belief that an anarchist society was not an end goal. (From : Guardian Obituary.)
• "...the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)
• "It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)
• "The anarchists, who have always distinguished between the state and society, adhere to the social principle, which can be seen where-ever men link themselves in an association based on a common need or a common interest." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)
Chapter 6 - Who Is To Plan?
Urban development is the capitalist definition of space. It is one particular realization of the technically possible, and it excludes all alternatives. Urban studies should be seen — like esthetics, whose path to complete confusion they are about to follow — as a rather neglected type of penal reform: an epidemiology of the social disease called revolt.
The “theory” of urban development seeks to enlist the support of its victims, to persuade them that they have really chosen the bureaucratic form of conditioning expressed by modem architecture. To this end, all the emphasis is placed on utility, the better to hide the fact that this architecture’s real utility is to control men and reify the relations between them. People need a roof over their heads: superblocks provide it. People need informing and entertaining: telly does just that. But of course the kind of information, entertainment and place to live which such arguments help sell are not created for people at all, but rather without them and against them.
Kotanyi and Vaneigem, Theses on Unitary Urbanism
Contemporary town planning had its origins in the sanitary reform and public health movements of the nineteenth century, overlaid by architectural notions about civic design, economic notions about the location of industry, and above all by engineering notions about highway planning. Today, when there are close links between official planners and speculative developers, to the corruption of the former and the enrichment of the latter, we forget that there was also, in the early ideologists of town planning like Patrick Geddes and Ebenezer Howard, the hope of a great popular movement for town improvement and city development, and for a regionalist and decentralist approach to physical planning. There was even a link with anarchism through the persons of anarchist geographers like Kropotkin and Élisée Reclus and their friendship with Patrick Geddes (whose biographer writes: “an interesting book could be written about the scientific origins of the international anarchist movement, and if it were, the name of Geddes would not be absent”.)
But, in a society where urban land and its development are in the hands of speculative entrepreneurs and where the powers of urban initiative are in the hands of local and national government, it was inevitable that the processes of change and innovation should be controlled by bureaucracies and speculators or by an alliance between the two. With not the slightest provision for popular initiative and choice in the whole planning process it is scarcely surprising that the citizen mistrusts and fears the “planner” who for him is just one more municipal functionary working in secrecy in City Hall.
When the poor working-class districts of our cities were devastated by bombing in the Second World War it was said that Hitler had provided the opportunity for massive slum clearance and reconstruction which could never have been achieved in peace-time. Comprehensive redevelopment of the bombed areas was undertaken. But so wedded was the planning profession and its municipal employers to the huge, utilitarian rehousing project that they proceeded with their own blitzkrieg, with the demolition contractor taking the place of the bomber.
“Raze and rise” was their crude philosophy, a terrible simplification of the historical process of urban decay and renewal, as though the intention was to obliterate the fact that our cities had a past. And it was pursued with the thoroughness of total war, as you can see with surrealist clarity in a city like Liverpool where hundreds of acres have been devastate while neither the Corporation nor anyone else has the finance for rebuilding. They either sow grass on the flattened streets or deposit rubble to keep out the Gypsies. Another aspect of the war of planning against the poor has been the universal policy of building inner ring roads or urban motorways for the benefit of the out-of-town commuter and the motoring lobby. The highway engineer has staked his professional reputation on getting the traffic through — at whatever cost — and, needless to say, it is the poor districts of the city that provide the cheapest route.
In the United States similar policies of urban renewal have meant the destruction of the run-down, top-down sector of town to replace low-income housing by office blocks, parking lots or expensive apartments at high rents. In practice, “bringing back life to the city” meant “running the Blacks out of town”. What happened to the inhabitants unable to afford the new high rents? Obviously they were squeezed into the remaining run-down districts, thus increasing their housing problems. The result, apart from the long, hot summers of the late 1960s, was a revulsion against the idea of “planning”, and the growth of the idea of the planner, not as the servant of the powerful interests that govern the city but as the advocate of the inhabitants, to help them formulate their own plan, or at least their own demands on City Hall.
The same loss of faith in “planning” led to the provisions in current British legislation for “public participation in planning”. So foreign are these mildly democratic notions to the way things are actually managed in a formally democratic society that many of the early attempts at promoting “advocacy planning” have been seen as yet another subtle form of manipulation, of gaining a community’s acquiescence in its own destruction, while in Britain the planning profession’s interpretation of public participation has simply meant informing the public of what is in store once the basic decisions have already been taken. In urban rehousing the planners congratulate themselves on abandoning the inhuman and grossly uneconomic tower block housing policy only to institute urban rehabilitation policies which in practice have meant that landlords, aided by government grants, have rehabilitated their property, “winkled out” the original tenants and either let the improved properties at middle-class rents or sold them to middle-class purchasers. Their former tenants are added to the numbers of overcrowded or homeless city dwellers, compelled by their low incomes to be the superfluous people, the non-citizens of the city who man its essential services at incomes that do not allow them to live there above the squalor level.
Planning, the essential grid of an ordered society which, it is said, makes anarchy “an impossible dream”, turns out to be yet another way in which the rich and powerful oppress and harass the weak and poor. The disillusionment with planning as a plausible activity has led to quite serious suggestions that we would be better off without it, not merely, as would be predictable, from the free market entrepreneurs, resenting any limitation on their sacred right to make maximum profits, but from involved professionals. One such group in Britain flew a kite labeled “Non-Plan: An Experiment in Freedom”. Why not have the courage, they asked, to let people shape their own environment? And they declared that:
The whole concept of planning (the town and country kind at least) has gone cock-eyed. What we have today represents a whole cumulation of good intentions. And what those good intentions are worth, we have almost no way of knowing ... As Melvin Webber has pointed out: planning is the only branch of knowledge purporting to be a science which regards a plan as being fulfilled when it is merely completed; there’s seldom any sort of check on whether the plan actually does what it was meant to do, and whether, if it does something different, this is for the better or for the worse.
They illustrate this with examples of the way in which many of the aspects of the physical environment that we admire today were developed for absolutely different reasons, which the planner never foresaw. Most planning, they declare, is aristocratic or oligarchical in its methods. At a deeper level Richard Sennett has written a book, The Uses of Disorder, which led one critic to declare that “with this book the process of redefining nineteenth-century anarchism for the twentieth century is begun”. Several different threads of thought are woven together in Sennett’s study of “personal identity and city life”. The first is a notion that he derives from the psychologist Erik Erikson that in adolescence men seek a purified identity to escape from uncertainty and pain and that true adulthood is found in the acceptance of diversity and disorder. The second is that modern American society freezes men in the adolescent posture — a gross simplification of urban life in which, when rich enough, people escape from the complexity of the city, with its problems of cultural diversity and income disparity, to private family circles of security in the suburbs — the purified community. The third is that city planning as it has been conceived in the past — with techniques like zoning and the elimination of “non-conforming users” — has abetted this process, especially by projecting trends into the future as a basis for present energy and expenditure.
This means guessing the future physical and social requirements of a community or city and then basing present spending and energy so as to achieve a readiness for the projected future state. In planning schools, beginning students usually argue that people’s lives in time are wandering and unpredictable, that societies have a history in the sense that they do what was not expected of them, so that this device is misleading. Planning teachers usually reply that of course the projected need would be altered by practical objections in the course of being worked out; the projective-need analysis is a pattern of ideal conditions rather than a fixed prescription.
But the facts of planning in the last few years have shown that this disclaimer on the part of planners is something that they do not really mean. Professional planners of highways, of redevelopment housing, of inner-city renewal projects have treated challenges from displaced communities or community groups as a threat to the value of their plans rather than as a natural part of the effort at social reconstruction. Over and over again one can hear in planning circles a fear expressed when the human beings affected by planning changes become even slightly interested in the remedies proposed for their lives. “Interference”, “blocking”, and “‘interruption of work” — these are the terms by which social challenges or divergences from the planners’ projections are interpreted. What has really happened is that the planners have wanted to take the plan, the projection in advance, as more “true?” than the historical turns, the unforeseen movements in the real time of human lives.
His prescription for overcoming the crisis of American cities is a reversal of these trends, a move for “outgrowing a purified identity”. He wants cities where people are forced to confront each other: “There would be no policing, nor any other form of central control, of schooling, zoning, renewal, or city activities that could be performed through common community action, or even more importantly, through direct, nonviolent conflict in the city itself’ Nonviolent? Yes, because Sennett claims that the present, modern, affluent city is one in which aggression and conflict are denied outlets other than violence, precisely because of the lack of personal confrontation. (Cries for law and order are loudest when communities — in the American suburb — are most isolated from other people in the city.) The clearest example, he suggests, of the way this violence occurs “is found in the pressures on the police in modern cities. Police are expected to be bureaucrats of hostility resolution” but “a society that visualizes the lawful response to disorder as an impersonal, passive coercion only invites terrifying outbreaks of police rioting”. Whereas the anarchist city that he envisages, “pushing men to say what they think about each other in order to forge some mutual pattern of compatibility”, is not a compromise between order and violence but a wholly different way of living in which people wouldn’t have to choose between the two:
Really “decentralized” power, so that the individual has to deal with those around him, in a milieu of diversity, involves a change in the essence of communal control, that is, in the refusal to regulate conflict. For example, police control of much civil disorder ought to be sharply curbed; the responsibility for making peace in neighborhood affairs ought to fall on the people involved. Because men are now so innocent and unskilled in the expression of conflict, they can only view these disorders as spiraling into violence. Until they learn through experience that the handling of conflict is something that cannot be passed on to policemen, this polarization and escalation of conflict into violence will be the only end they can frame for themselves. This is as true of those who expect police reprisals against themselves, like the small group of militant students, as those who call in the police “on their side”
The professional’s task is changed too. “Instead of planning for some abstract urban whole, planners are going to have to work for the concrete parts of the city, the different classes, ethnic groups and races it contains. And the work they do for these people cannot be laying out their future; the people will have no chance to mature unless they do that for themselves, unless they are actively involved in shaping their social lives.”
The emphasis shifts from the distant city planning authority to the local community association and the growth and growing sophistication of such associations is a hopeful pointer in the direction of Sennett’s urban anarchy. We already have examples, both in Britain and in the United States, of community groups (with no “official” status) developing their own rehousing plans, just as feasible as those of the local authority, but more in tune with the desires of tenants, and capable, even under present-day conditions, of financial viability through housing society finance. The next step is the Neighborhood Council idea, and the step after that is for neighborhoods to achieve real control of neighborhood facilities. After that comes the federation of neighborhoods.
The paradox here is that you can see the usual indifference and low electoral turn-out for the local authority elections and, at the same time, widespread support for and interest in an ad hoc community action group which devotes much of its time to fighting the local authority. From an anarchist point of view this is not surprising. The council, polarized on political party lines, remote from the neighborhood, dominated by its professional officials who, as Chris Holmes said, operate the machinery in such a way as to make local initiative fruitless, is the descendant of nineteenth-century squirearchical paternalism. The Community Association, springing up from real concern over real issues, operates on the scale of face-to-face groups, and for this very reason is invested with a kind of popular legitimacy.
Ioan Bowen Rees, in the course of his valuable book Government by Community, compares the timid recommendations of the Skeffington Report on public participation in planning with current practice in Switzerland: “It was with the public that the Swiss began, with the Parish Meeting, as it were, passing its own planning statute and approving its own development plan.” The person who is intoxicated by large-scale thinking asks how planning could operate under these conditions. Well, Mr Bowen Rees emphasizes, “No community in Switzerland is insignificant. This means that a small commune can — and sometimes does — hold up a motorway. And also that a small commune can — and sometimes does — save itself from economic stagnation by its own efforts. And why not? The result is neither poverty nor chaos.”
The idea of social planning and social administration through a decentralized network of autonomous communities is not a new idea, it is a return to a very old one. Walter Ullman remarks that the towns of the Middle Ages “represent a rather clear demonstration of entities governing themselves” and that: “In order to transact business, the community assembled in its entirety ... the assembly was not ‘representative’ of the whole, but was the whole.” He describes the antipathy between federations of autonomous communes and the central authorities:
That the communes, the communitates, became the target of attack by the “establishment” is not difficult to understand. In some instances the word “commune” was even employed as a term of abuse ... From the point of view of autonomy it is understandable why and how the towns entered into alliances, also called conjurationes, or leagues with other towns. The populist complexion of the towns perhaps tended to harbor a certain revolutionary spirit, directed against the wielders of the Obrigkeit, against Authority.
The early history of the United States was a period when in local administration the Town Meeting was supreme. As Tom Paine wrote: “For upwards of two years from the commencement of the American War, and for a longer period in several of the American states, there were no established forms of government. The old governments had been abolished and the country was too much occupied in defense to employ its attention in establishing new governments; yet during this interval order and harmony were preserved as inviolate as in any country of Europe.” And Staughton Lynd comments: “In the American tradition, too, rebellion against inherited authorities was not mere ‘anti-institutionalism’. Implicit, sometimes explicit, in the American revolutionary tradition was a dream of the good society as a voluntary federation of local communal institutions, perpetually recreated from below by what Paul Goodman calls ‘a continuous series of existential constitutional acts’.”
The rediscovery of community power, arising from the enormities of centralized bureaucratic planning, could b e the beginning of a recreation of this tradition. And it is precisely because we are in the very early stages of rediscovering it in a society dominated by bureaucratic administration that we have to learn through experience the pitfalls and disappointments of community organization without community power, community consultation as a diversion from real community action. In Barnsbury, in North London, middle-class amenity pressure groups succeeded in getting traffic shifted into adjoining working-class districts where community pressure was less vocally organized. Here, of course, there is an answer, given years ago in another context by the traffic pundit, Professor Buchanan: “Sandbag a few streets, and see what happens.”
An American planner, Sherry Arnstein, devised a “ladder of participation” as a means of evaluating the genuineness or spuriousness of schemes for community participation in planning. The rungs of her ladder are:
CITIZEN CONTROL DELEGATED POWER PARTNERSHIP PLACATION CONSULTATION INFORMING THERAPY MANIPULATION
Arnstein’s ladder is a very useful device for cutting our ideas about participation down to size. The Skeffington Report, especially as translated into practice, is only up to rungs three or four of the ladder. Its emphasis is on educating the public to an understanding of the planning authorities. It says, “we see the process of giving information and opportunities for participation as one which leads to a greater understanding and cooperation rather than to a crescendo of dispute”. But a crescendo of dispute is precisely what we need if we are ever to climb the rungs of Arnstein’s ladder to full citizen control.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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