Urban planning technologies are typically conceptualized in positivist terms, which results in a troubling gap between the assumptions of analytical tools and community concerns. Building on ideas from my dissertation, I address this gap in a recent theoretical article appearing in the journal Planning Theory & Practice. Here’s the abstract:
Digital knowledge technologies such as urban computer models, geographic information systems, and planning support systems are often critiqued as black boxes whose use in planning results in the domination of expert views over stakeholder perspectives. These concerns are not adequately addressed by collaborative planning theory, which reflects Habermas’s problematic assumption that technology is primarily associated with instrumental rationality. Within the realm of planning discussion Habermas’s concept of media provides a description of how to draw insights from technologies while minimizing their potential for oppression. However, conducting democratic inquiry with knowledge technologies requires moving beyond discourse ethics and fostering critical interaction between technology creators and planning stakeholders, where choices about the process, goals and scope, representation, and epistemic norms are made jointly. These ideas are illustrated with three examples of knowledge technologies used at different scales of planning practice: a sketch-planning workshop, a regional planning process, and a planning institution. Collaborative planning practices must pay greater attention to the design and use of digital knowledge technologies by rethinking – but not abolishing – the division of labor between professionals and stakeholders.