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Urban Infrastructure

Creativity in Urban Planning

Publication date: 07-05-2024, Read time: 3 min

Our urge to look for creative and innovative solutions for societal and urban problems is at its height. Creativity is often talked about in terms of innovation, design thinking, radical changes, or alternative solutions. But definitions and theoretical reflections on creativity as a concept are mostly lacking. Frameworks are adopted from other fields, making it hard to determine what’s creative in urban planning; how does an urban planner, a community worker or any other stakeholder decide whether a solution that presents itself is really new, creative and useful? 

A complex playing field

The pursuit of creative solutions is not without its complications. Urban planners' ideal often is finding solutions that are democratic, just, and evidence-based - solutions where the majority would agree on their usefulness. But how creative can such solutions be?

These preferences and requirements for valid solutions in the work of urban planners are placed on top of each other, without contradictions and path dependencies being addressed.

In addition, the urgency of urban planning in this day and age leads to a strong focus on implementation. As a result of all this, the question of why things are being done a certain way is often ignored. What's required for planners to devise their creative processes is major conceptual rethinking regarding the nature of urban planning, and the use of digital tools within its processes and goals. 

Creative agency

The first step might be acknowledging the subjective nature of certain decision-making processes. Decision-making involves very subjective values, which makes it hard to decide what’s right or wrong. Participatory approaches – no matter how valuable in their own right – can stand in the way of creative solutions. Collective decision-making in planning is often thought about as consensus building and the aim is to achieve situations where everybody has the same power. Urban planning processes and theories often work towards removing individuals from the process, and the “creative agency“ of urban planners cannot play its part. This is too bad, all the more so because participation can be achieved without having to bring all stakeholders together around the same table.

Asking new questions

The main goal of the SEMINAL project is to create a support system to facilitate creative thinking in urban planning. The idea is that asking new questions about creativity in the field can contribute to understanding: 

• where ideas in urban planning are coming from

• which contradictions and path dependencies there are and how to untangle them

• how looking at other fields can help to address recurring inconsistencies in current urban planning concepts

Dr. Moozhan Shakeri holds a PhD in urban planning and is currently working on the project titled 'Supporting Creative Minds in Urban Planning (SEMINAL)'. More information on the SEMINAL project can be found on the website sealonthebeach.com.

This article is based on an interview for the Geo Hero YouTube channel. Follow this link to view the original interview with Dr. Moozhan Shakeri

Urban Infrastructure
Last edited: 07-05-2024

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