Exploring Strategic Spatial Planning

Essay add: 22-10-2015, 20:34   /   Views: 160


This essay aims to explore the nature of spatial planning. The essay will comprise of three main sections. The first will attempt to provide a definition for strategic planning and explore its purpose, as well as the methodology it employs. The second section will distinguish strategic planning from other forms of planning, namely master planning and land use planning.

Finally the third section will examine the value of strategic planning through examining why one would embrace this type of planning, the nature of its product, as well as its degree of usefulness as a planning technique.

Strategic Planning, its Purpose and Methods

Strategic spatial planning has no single definition. It is not a single concept, procedure or tool. Instead it is a set of concepts, procedures and tools that are tailored to the context in which they are to be utilised to achieve the desired outcomes (Albrechts 2001). Strategic plan incorporates procedural aspects, institutional design and mobilization as well as substantial theories (Albrechts 2001).

Strategic spatial planning is said to be a process that is transformative and integrative, it should be a public sector led process which is socio-spatial through which a vision is formulated (Albrechts 2010:1119). Action plans are formulated for implementation so that the vision can be realised (Albrechts 2010:1119).The strategic spatial planning process can be defined through its characteristics. It is a process that is aimed at a number of strategic key issues; an achievable number of issues are identified so as to prevent the tendency of overwhelming which accompanies attempts to be comprehensive. The process involves critical analysis of the environment in terms of its strength, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, as well as the forces and resources available. Through identifying and engaging with both public and private stakeholders strategic planning allows for diverse involvement during the planning process.

Strategic spatial planning process is concerned with the development of realistic long term visions which attempt to account for power structures, uncertainties, and conflicting values and interests. The vision is achieved through the creation and implementation of decision frameworks which guide and manage spatial changes. Strategic spatial planning involves more than the development of a vision and action frameworks, it also through the process concerns itself with the creation of new ideas, new ways of understanding, as well as new ways of influencing development arenas.

In essence strategic spatial planning is oriented towards decisions, actions, results and implementation, in both the short, medium and long term. This process is cyclical and incorporates monitoring, feedback and revision of the vision and action plans. (Albrechts 2001)According to Albrechts (2010) the objectives for strategic spatial planning have been to construct challenging, coherent, and coordinated visions, in order to frame an integrated long-term spatial logic. This includes the rationale for land-use regulation, resource protection, and sustainable development.

The objectives are also to enhance action orientation as opposed to enforcement of ideas through control and to promote a more inclusive and layered approach to governance. (Albrechts 2010:1119)Friedman (2007) suggests that the main purpose of spatial planning is "not to mandate particular land uses but to allow for the better coordination of urban policies and large-scale project developments across space, to test alternative policies and designs by looking at their spatial implications, and to allow for an informed public discourse about them" (Friedman 2007:7). Spatial planning is similar to urban policy formation as it needs to be a flexible instrument. Documents produced should be provisional in nature, they should be constantly updated as the result of an ongoing process of interactive learning and engagement. These documents provide a real time narrative of the influences of market forces and collective decisions on the area of concern. (Friedman 2007:7)

What are its main methods?

The methodologies of strategic spatial planning do not cast detailed long-range targets and vision in steal (Balducci et al. 2011:488). Instead they present pathways which might be followed in a flexible manner whereby means and ends can be adapted so as best to suit changing circumstances.The Four-track approach is one guiding methodology one could utilise to guide the process of strategic spatial planning. This approach is based on the mobilisation of four different types of rationality, namely; value rationality, communicative rationality, instrumental rationality, and strategic rationality (Albrechts 2004:752). The first track concerns the vision.

This vision is formulated using value rationality which concerns social values. The vision is created within conditions which recognise power relations as well as aspects such as inequality and diversity (Albrechts 2006:1492). The second track focuses on solving problems in the short term and long term whilst building trust between actors. The solving of problems in the short term is done in a manner which supports and confirms the overarching future vision (Albrechts 2006:1492).

Within this track the four types of rationality are interrelated. The third track involves only the stakeholders required for gaining support and legitimising the vision and action plans. These stakeholders are involved based on their substantive contribution, procedural competence, or their role in the process. This track is primarily concerned with strategic rationality and communicative rationality. The implementation of proposed actions requires the cooperation of multiple stakeholders in order to accumulate the technical skills as well as power needed for implementation of projects to occur (Albrechts 2006:1492).

The fourth track focuses extensively on inclusion, involving the public in decisions. This is a process of mutual learning through the exploration of different actor's perspectives with the aim of building a mutual understanding and utilizing social and intellectual capital resources (Albrechts 2006:1492). The end product of this methodology is an analysis of the processes shaping the environment, vision which is realistic, dynamic, and integrated.

In addition short and long term action plans, budgets, and a strategy for implementation. (Albrechts 2006:1492).Strategic planning does not flow smoothly from one phase to the next, in the four track method the tracks do not run parallel to one another but instead cross merge and diverge depending on the context. Strategic spatial planning is not a linear process but instead it is one that is dynamic and creative, information is always changing, new views and facts can lead to the alteration of decisions previously made and the re-examination of the vision and action plans. (Albrechts 2010:1121)

Strategic Planning in Relation to Master Planning and Land Use Planning

Strategic spatial planning is an approach which differs from the modernist approaches of land use planning and master planning. "Traditional spatial planning is concerned with the location, intensity, form, amount, and harmonization of land development required for the various space-using functions" (Albrechts 2006:4). Master Planning is a top down method. Cities are mandated to produce blueprints for development that exclusively detail future land uses and circulation patterns (Friedman 2007:11). This process of planning is a static process that does not involve any form of participation or consultation with stakeholders. These plans are one dimensional as they only deal with physical issues and not social, economic or policy issues. (Friedman 2007:11)Land use planning like master planning is viewed as being one dimensional.

Land use planning aims to control the use of land through the enforcement of land use zoning systems (Albrechts 2006). Land use planning does not promote development as such but rather hinders development of undesirable uses in certain areas.Land use planning and master planning both produce regulatory policies and instruments. Strategic spatial planning on the other hand is a "development-led approach that aims to intervene more directly, more coherently and more selectively in social reality and development" (Albrechts 2006:1489). Strategic spatial planning's development led focus results in the production of frameworks with justification for specific actions as opposed to blueprints.

It also encourages the development of an alternate political space where planning is government led but is inclusionary as it involves participation and stakeholder consultation. In strategic spatial planning, the end state or vision is a flexible future whereby as information becomes available or contexts change the vision can respond according. (Albrechts 2010:1118)Essentially "strategic spatial planning is directed more towards integrated socio-economic courses of action that supersede the mere focus on land use (traditional planning)." (Albrechts 2001:295)

The Value of Strategic Planning

"If planning were judged by results, that is, by whether life followed the dictates of the plan, then planning has failed everywhere it has been tried. No one, it turns out, has the knowledge to predict sequences of actions and reactions across the realm of public policy, and no one has the power to compel obedience." (Wildavsky, 1987: 21 in Polat 2009:89)One cannot deny the truth in the above harsh critique of planning, that no one has the power to predict the future of ensure obedience. However strategic spatial planning responds to this critique in some ways. It acknowledges that the future is unpredictable and hence the vision which is produced through the process is a flexible one which can change as the context changes.

Additionally strategic spatial planning does not attempt to force development and the creation of a certain future but rather it identifies projects which would help achieve the desired future and guide development in the direction of the envisioned future.Strategic spatial planning is an exceptionally useful and diverse method of planning. It can be used for multidimensional complex problems where stakeholders and authorities are mutually dependent and exist at different scales and levels (Albrechts 2001:4).

Strategic planning presents a method for formulating and steering development with the aim of creating a better future for a place on the basis of shared values (Albrechts 2010:1118).The final product of strategic spatial planning "may consist of a critical analysis of the main processes and structural constraints shaping our places, which amounts to a realistic, dynamic, integrated, and indicative long-term vision (frame), a plan for short-term and long-term actions, a budget, and a flexible strategy for implementation. It constitutes a commitment or (partial) (dis)agreement between the key actors." (Albrechts 2010:1121). Strategic planning is proactive as it not only develops a vision but formulates the manner in which it could be achieved.

Strategic spatial planning however is not comprehensive, it is action-oriented and as a result strategic issues which it aims to address have to be restricted. This is a very realistic approach as budgets, manpower, plan-making and organizational capacities are also limited. It has been shown that stakeholders will only endeavour on a long time consuming process if the strategic issues are considered as real problems by the stakeholders. (Albrechts 2001:4)The capacity of strategic spatial planning process to achieve the desired vision is dependent on both the process used as well as on the conditions surrounding the process. These conditions include the attitude towards the project, the political will and agendas of political stakeholders, institutional arrangements, and the manner in which action plans are executed. (Albrechts 2001:3)


Strategic spatial planning is not a single idea but rather multiple interrelated concepts and ideas structured in an action oriented reiterative manner. While it limits the issues being dealt with it encompasses a broad range of stakeholders and attempts to deal with social, economic, and political aspects of the selected issues. Strategic spatial planning is equipped to grapple with complex multidimensional issues and challenges facing contemporary society in a rapidly evolving and changing context.

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