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Library On new methodological and other standards in planning: The case of the Master Plan of Belgrade 2021

On new methodological and other standards in planning: The case of the Master Plan of Belgrade 2021

On new methodological and other standards in planning: The case of the Master Plan of Belgrade 2021

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December 2002
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As elsewhere in the ex-communist/socialist countries, the former planning system in Yugoslavia has been dismantled as from the beginning of 1990s, and the planning practice has from then onwards been steered by an apart mixture of old habits, few institutional innovations and the social, economic and political turbulence of the transition period. The previous system and practice of socioeconomic planning collapsed, so far not to be substituted for by new arrangements, to match the impact of the key factors of the transition period, i.e., political pluralization, privatization and marketisation. On the other hand, albeit the system of spatial/urban and environmental planning has been 're-touched' in the 1990s, the adjustments undertaken have not either been harmonized with the factors mentioned. What can now be recognized as the existing 'planning system' is, however, an strange mix of heterogeneous elements from a number of disparate modes, i.e., 'crisis-management-planning', 'planning-supported-wild-marketisation-and-privatisation', 'project-based-planning', etc. In effect, there is no overall professional and political consensus on the direction and content of reform in this field (which also applies to other key issues). In sum, the existing situation in the planning system and practice reads as follows: (1) The system has almost lost its legitimacy, partly because the majority of the former public interests collapsed, and new, indisputable public interests still not being established. Under such circumstances, new roles of planning are hardly known to the public at large, in part as a consequence of an overall anti-planning stance among the majority of political, economic and expert elites. (2) The inertia rules the professional landscape, since there has been a lack of new approaches and methodologies, to match the impact of new dominant factors and the miserable social and economic conditions in the country. Regarding the approaches and methodologies applied, the traditional ex ante planning evaluation still prevails, and more ex post and ex continuo evaluation is still missing. (3) The planning system is too centralized (within the two republics), since the radical recentralization of Serbia was undertaken in 1990, and subsequently the sub-national tiers were deprived of almost any effective planning instruments. In addition to this, the majority of regional entities ('districts') and communes lack a competent administrative machinery and expertise, as well as other support (e.g., research, planning information support etc.) for effecting autonomous planning policies. (4) There has been no more ambitious strategic planning (which is, however, somehow understandable vis-à-vis only now ended international sanctions and isolation of the country). On the other hand, the majority of the development documents that have been passed in the meantime, grossly lack elaborated implementation devices (policies and instruments). Especially in the field of urban planning, the detailed ('land use') schemes prevail over the more strategic development schemes for larger urban and regional areas. Specific development projects (and, only sometimes, more harmonized programmes) by far outnumber other planning schemes. (5) The integration and harmonization of various aspects of planning and policy, i.e., social, economic, spatial/urban, environmental, is very poor. In effect, physicalism still dominates the scene in spatial and urban planning, and the elements of socioeconomic development and environmental policy are scarce within this block. (6) The stipulated legal propositions pertaining to the openness, participativeness and transparency of the planning/policy procedures fall easily frail in the planning practice, resulting in the very poor content in this regard. (7) There has been a lack of planners and other experts experienced and knowledgeable in practicing planning under the new circumstance of political pluralism and radically changed structure of stakeholders and concomitant institutional arrangements. This also applies to 'educators' in general, because the prolonged international isolation of the FR Yugoslavia has caused the gross of their knowledge and capabilities irrelevant. In sum, it seems that many planners would not be able to assume new roles that they are expected to on the part of the society at large. (8)The planning/policy information, research, institutional and other support provided by the state and other agents often does not satisfy even the most basic needs in this fields, partly for a general scarcity of resources concomitant to the overall and deep social, economic and political crisis the society found itself in the 1990s. (9) Most frightfully, manipulation, paternalism and clientelism still represent dominant forms of power, which is a problem by itself in Yugoslavia being one of the most corruptive countries in the world. What is now most missing is a non-manipulative persuasion, as well as the authority of professional values, as the communication and interaction forms that seem only promising for and supportive to developing of a democratic, emancipatory and transformative planning mode. A number of attempts during the last decade to embark upon the preparation of the new 'Master Plan of the City Belgrade' (in the sequel: MP) came into realization not before the democratic political changes of October 2000 took place in Serbia. However, the so far undertaken steps do not seem promising, as they failed to satisfy a number of methodological and other standards, as well as to introduce necessary innovations. Unfortunately, the MP was commissioned to the Bureau of Urban Planning of the City of Belgrade (otherwise a 'faithful ally' of all non-democratic regimes in the City's urban planning and related matters over the last more than ten years now, during which there has been a so far unrecorded squandering and illegal privatization of public urban assets, mostly uncontrolled and not paid-for). Similarly, vested are to lead and complete the work mostly the experts/planners who 'controlled' and still 'control' the academic and professional scene in the same period (notwithstanding that were compromised and their abilities proved passé on many occasions), now recycled to perform new mission. Albeit the entire project had not been adequately prepared, already two interim documents have been elaborated now, viz., 'A Hypothesis of the Master Plan of Belgrade 2021', and 'A Concept of the Master Plan of Belgrade 2021'. In what follows, a brief review of the work done so far is presented: (1) The role of the MP is poorly defined, which is strange vis-à-vis the pronounced thesis on the 'insuperable role of market', which one renders puzzle about the veritable role of the MP. In addition to this, physicalism features as the key characteristic of this document: social and economic aspects of development are insufficiently present and poorly integrated into the MP, and so are the environmental aspects. The MP will however have to assume a part of socioeconomic development planning and policy as well, because the latter is predictably not likely to get recuperated in some time to come. Furthermore, the social, economic and environmental problems of Belgrade are so tremendous (e.g., extremely high rate of unemployment, probably around 40% of the total work force, obsolete technological, market and other structure of the larger part of Belgrade economy, prolonged crisis of economic growth, overall pauperization of the overwhelming majority of people, many hundred thousand refugees, few hundred thousand of young and educated people who left the country, disproportionate environmental pollution as compared to the level of economic development, etc.), that they must not be ignored in the development documents like the MP. (2) There is no sound conception on the public interests, particularly under the circumstances of a large number of legitimate individual interests fast emerging on the political scene, some of which also persisting to impose themselves as new and legitimate public interests. This results in a feeble notion on the existing and predictable future conflicts, as well as on the planning mechanisms and instruments that will be used in their control and management. (3) The concept of sustainable development has been only 'flirted with' in the MP, whereby a sound doctrine upon which development is to be directed and articulated is also missing (i.e., that which is of relevance for a territorial entity with the GDP of not more than some USD 1 500 per capita). (4) No efforts have been made to introduce more relevant methodological approach, i.e., those which would contrast the miserable socioeconomic and environmental fixities, viz.: (i) A more rigorous ex post evaluation of past decisions has not been performed, implying that future steps will be undertaken upon rather anecdotal insights in the existing power structure, institutional and organizational arrangements and dominant communication and interaction modes in planning. In the same context, the most significant problem of Belgrade area, i.e., how to approach the economic and ecological renewal and rehabilitation of its economy, has been hardly paid sufficient attention to. (This also applies to the position of Belgrade in the broader regional Euro-Asian context, which has terribly eroded over the last decade). (ii) Although the intention of the whole exercise is to work out a 'hard product', i.e., a urban development plan, no ex ante evaluation scheme has been produced so far, implying that the job is not being performed lege artis. Apart from other implications, this failure is particularly handicapping regarding the criteria of ex ante evaluation, leaving the professional audience and the public at large without the sound answers on key questions: What are the criteria upon which the evaluation has been undertaken? Whose are they? What interests stand behind them? Who decides on the criteria that will be applied? Apart from softening the rigour of the expertise, this flaw also allows for too ample 'maneuvering space' for the subsequent arbitrating to be performed by the politicians. (5) A trend-based extrapolation has been used as the key prognostic technique, which is absolutely unacceptable, keeping in mind the poor predictive power (I) and unstable institutional arrangements in planning and elsewhere (II). Instead, the political community would necessitate a number of veritable alternative scenarios of possible/desirable future development elaborated and presented for discussion, deliberation and decision-making in expert arenas and public forums. (6) Perhaps the weakest part of the MP goes to the issue of implementation of planning decisions, giving way to 'visioning' (in effect, to another planning 'phantasmagory'), which is again unacceptable vis-à-vis the pressing and burning realities of Belgrade and its broader surroundings. (7) Finally, an open, transparent and publicly verified 'offer to strategic partners' would also be needed, as the City does not have enough internal resources to cope with the problems of its economic, social, physical and environmental renewal. To conclude, major improvements are needed regarding the planning approach and methodology applied in the preparation of the Master Plan of the City of Belgrade 2021. As this project is likely to carry considerable demonstrational effects throughout the planning scene in Yugoslavia, its highly professional execution is of necessity, so that a major damage is avoided, i.e., that of a further loss of the legitimacy of planning and erosion of the planning profession.

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Vujošević Miodrag L.

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