Who makes our future?

On June 12th was held at the NAi an interesting debate within the activities of the 5th IABR, entitled:             “Who makes our future?

Debate that served as the presentation of the book “Dutch New Worlds“, a PhD work by Christian Salewski for the ETH Zurich, with the participation of following panel of guests:

Kees Christiaanse (KCAP, ETH Zurich)

Michelle Provoost (Crimson, INTI)

Henk Ovink (Minister for Infrastructure and Environment, 5th IABR)

Peter Swinnen (Flemish Government Architect, 51N4E)

The session began with Christian Salewski reviewing his publication, which is built around the idea of how the scenario thinking changed the urban planning from its beginnings in the 1960s to its peak in the 1990s.

Starting from the theory of the “cone of possibilities”, which expresses graphically how each decision we make opens a door to possible future scenarios making uncertainty growing over time and reducing determination; Salewski explained how to introduce scenarios in the urban planning process.

Scenarios generated from different variables: economic profit, sustainability, densification… that must be presented on an equal basis to those involved in decision-making.

This is a way of thinking and acting deeply rooted in Dutch culture and its polder system. The way to develop scenarios (options) and present them objectively is something that many architectural offices use as strategy in architectural projects. Personally I think all the quality this approach can give to the field of design and urban planning can be dangerous when applying it to an architectural project, causing it to blur and lose a lot of strength.

To conclude the excellent presentation of his work, Christian Salewski spoke of the possibility of creating a framework for uncertainty, making it part of the planning but creating guidelines that allow each social group to live together without ruling over another.

After the presentation, he assumed the moderator role in the debate between the panel of guests throwing a couple of questions:

Why is legitimate to plan?

What is a better future?

Michelle Provoost spoke about the criticism towards the physical planning, emphasizing that the use of computer modelling for urban planning trying to avoid uncertainty is the wrong path to follow.

Peter Swinnen answered Salewski´s question with another question “Do we need planners and designers for a better future?” To which he answered yes, because they are more able to think about possible future scenarios. He noted the need of becoming more action oriented.

Kees Christiaanse and Henk Ovink addressed the issue of the relationship between planning and politics, how politicians are entrusting large areas of City Development to skilful architects and the process is not collective anymore. Or the contradiction between growing demand for an involved and “energic society” with the fact that people pay taxes to the government to get rid of responsibilities.

Christian point out then that there is still big tasks that have to be done, how to distinguish between what is controllable or not? Which generated an interesting discussion about who should be the one to deal with large-scale planning (territorial planning), throwing a final question:

Do we need a new discipline?

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