What Is Strategic Spatial Planning Environmental Sciences

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Strategic spatial planning is arguably an approach which rails against the discourse of the scientific rational comprehensive models of planning which has and still does hold a large influence in current modes of planning. This short essay will hopefully explain to planners why a strategic spatial planning approach is more conducive in the current context which we find ourselves in. This will be done through answering a set of questions which will clarify the approach, its purpose and methods, how it differs from rational comprehensive approaches of master planning and land use planning, why planners should use it, what can be expected from it, and its usefulness.

What is Strategic Spatial Planning?

Strategic spatial planning is a method to help solve complex spatial problems through creating strategic visions and new spatial identities. According to Kaufman and Jacobs (in Albrechts, 2001) strategic systems originated in the US around the 1950's due to the need for rapidly changing and growing corporations to plan effectively and manage their futures at a time when the future seemed unclear. In Europe, strategic spatial planning dated back to the 1920s and 30s, and was used to direct the activities of others (Mastop in Albrechts, 2001).

From Albrechts (2006) it can be understood that the word 'spatial' brings into focus the 'where' of things, the creation and management of special 'places' and sites as well as the interrelations between different activities in an area, and significant intersections and nodes within an area. This spatial focus allows for a more effective way of integrating different agendas - such as, economic, social, and cultural - and their spatial impacts (Albrechts, 2006).

The word 'strategy' has its roots within a military context; in ancient battle armies would work out a strategy prior to the battle on how best to overcome the enemy. It is understood that this type of strategy had four basic elements - an accurate understanding of the real situation, realistic goals, focused resources in areas where they would be most effective, and persistence of the action until the desired outcome is achieved (Albrechts, 2010). These elements are strongly rooted in systems of strategic spatial planning.

In its entirety, strategic spatial planning is a process which is directed at a limited number of strategic key issue areas. It determines an areas strengths and weaknesses in the context of its opportunities and threats; it scans external trends, and the resources that are available. It gathers major public and private stakeholders and allows for a broad and diverse process of involvement. It develops a realistic long-term vision along with strategies in order to manage and influence spatial change. Importantly it is orientated towards decisions, actions, results, and implementation, in the short, medium and long-term (Albrechts, 2001). "It is indeed impossible to understand material places and social nodes such as 'the city', 'the city-region' and 'the region' in terms of a one-dimensional hierarchy of scales" (Albrechts, 2010:6).

This definition illustrates that strategic spatial planning is not a single concept or procedure, but it is a set of concepts, procedures and tools that are tailored carefully to whatever situation is presented (Albrecht, 2001). Moreover it is a development-led approach and a transformative and integrative, public sector-led, and socio-spatial process through which a vision, coherent actions and means for implementation are produced; these are then able to shape and frame what a place is and its potential of what it may become (Albrechts, 2006)

How does it differ from MASTER PLANNING and LAND USE PLANNING?

In order to understand the difference one needs to understand the rationale of land use planning and master planning.

Land use planning is a process of planning which is concerned with the location, intensity, form, amount, and harmonization of land development required for a variety of spatial uses; such as housing, industry, recreation, transport, education, and agriculture. A land use plan in this instance basically embodies a proposal as to how land should be used within a set of considered policy as expansion and restructuring progress in the future (Albrechts, 2004). Traditional land use planning is a more passive planning approach aimed at controlling land use through a zoning system and through regulations.

This according to Albrechts (2006) seems unfit for bridging the gap between plan-making, political decision-making and implementation. This was one of the reasons why the need arose for a different type of planning - a move away from regulatory policy and instruments to a development-led approach which aims to intervene more directly, coherently and selectively in social reality and development - strategic spatial planning (Albrechts, 2006). For Albrechts (2001) strategic spatial planning is to a certain extent rendered towards an integrated socio-economic course of action that supersedes the mere focus on land use planning.

For Master Planning on the other hand, Friedman (2007) found that it is almost a universally accepted form of planning practice. His survey found that in country after country, cities through their governments are mandated to produce master plans. Essentially within these master plans countries specify future land uses and location decisions. Master planning is a completely static practice and according to Friedman (2007) it needs to be rethought as it is out of line with the dynamic flows of globalisation.

Friedman (2007) defines master planning as being typically municipal plans rather than regional plans, and as being exclusively concerned with land use rather than with the total spectrum of urban policy issues. They are drawn up by a specialized branch of municipal government rather than through a wider process of collaborative deliberation, and the process used to draw up master plans and getting them approved takes years thus rendering them out-dated by the time they can be implemented. Also they are top-down, with relatively minimum citizen participation, and lastly when it comes to large scale projects; master plans are often set aside to allow for necessary changes in land use and circulation patterns (Friedman, 2007).

Opposing this, spatial planning is derived not from an official, mandatory character like master planning but from a role that coordinates instruments closely intertwined with urban policy formation and the design and implementation of large-scale projects. Spatial planning involves a range of actors that include communities, government officials and private stakeholders. The main purpose of spatial planning is not to mandate particular land uses - as is in the instance of master planning - but to allow for a better coordination of urban policies and large-scale project developments across space, to test alternative policies and designs through revising their social implications, and to allow for an informed public discourse about them (Friedman, 2007).

In cities such as the new downtown peninsula of Vancouver, master planning has been abandoned for systems of spatial planning in which planning proceeds by way of involving public hearings, bargaining, and negotiations. The results of this transition over a period of 25 years are testimony to the viability not only of the Vancouver model but also of the more abstract spatial planning model (Friedman, 2007).

What are its main PURPOSES and METHODS?

Strategic spatial planning as mentioned earlier is used for complex problems where authorities at different levels and different sectors and private actors are mutually dependant (Albrecht, 2001). The model designs plan-making structures and develops content, images and decision frameworks which can influence and manage spatial change. It is about constructing new ideas and processes that can carry these structures through, thus generating ways of understanding, ways of consensus, and ways of organising and mobilizing for the purpose of exerting influence in different arenas (Albrecht, 2006).

Both is the short and long term, strategic spatial planning focuses on framing decisions, actions, projects, results and implementation, and incorporates monitoring, feedback, adjustment and revision of the outcome. Its purpose therefore is not a new ideology preaching a new world order but as a method for creating and steering a better future for a place based on shared values (Albrechts, 2006).

Albrechts (2006) goes further on to explain that the seven main aims of a strategic project are - to develop an integrated innovative approach for the various project types; to develop a fully operational framework based on sustainability; to develop tools for quality management; to broaden the multi-actor/multi-level policy settings and to evaluate current settings; to disseminate the approach; to develop an educational model; and to establish a network of knowledge between researchers, professionals, and governments (Albrechts, 2006).

The capacity for these projects to deliver the desired outcome is dependant firstly on the system itself and on the conditions underlying it - such as structural constraints, and political, cultural, and professional attitudes towards spatial planning. The planning process is not intended to flow smoothly from one phase to the next. It is a dynamic and creative process wherein new views and facts that arise today may alter the decisions made yesterday (Albrechts, 2010). This illustrates that it is never a fixed process but is in a continuous start of change from beginning to end.

The visions and frames which guide this process are never 'a given', rather they are to be constructed. The process of envisioning is the process by which groups develop visions of future states for themselves, their organisations, city, or their region that are clear, powerful and realistic. Essentially this means that the visions are to be constructed within a specific context and scale regarding issues that are of interest within that space and within a particular combination of actors. This is to be done within a method that fully recognises the conditions of power, inequality, and diversity. "The vision describes a city or region as it may look like in the future, and it must appeal to the long-term interests of actors who have a stake in the city or region" (Albrechts, 2010:8).

Why do this kind of planning?

Strategic spatial planning projects conduct an in-depth study of the area, thus giving preference to the location being affected over anything else. With this these projects study external trends and the resources available therefore allowing for a broad and diverse process. Also, by making use of this type of planning, planners are able to target a variety of areas; including urban, rural, and economic areas (Albrechts, 2006).

In the instance of urban areas, strategic urban projects are useful as they aim to consolidate, transform, restructure or reuse the urban areas for new and emerging demands from public and private actors. With regards to rural areas, strategic projects are useful as they aim to transform rural and suburban dynamics into a more sustainable and qualitative form of development while not forgetting to enhance the cultural meaning of these spaces. Lastly, economic areas are seen as an important part of the effort to keep up international economic competitiveness. Strategic projects seek to turn away from the old concept of business parks spatial concept and management to a focus on the requirements of firms that are to be translated into specifically designed employment locations (Albrechts, 2006).

And what can we expect from it?

This question can be divided into two parts; 'we' as planners and 'we' as the public and private actors. First, the essay will intend to the address the latter part.

Strategic spatial planning projects are strategic to achieve visions, goals, and objectives from a variety of policy sectors, and are to integrate the community being affected. Visions is arguably one of the most important factors of strategic projects as they are expected to be placed within the specific context, place, time and level, and are to regard specific issues that are of interest to the different actors (Albrechts, 2006).

Essentially what can be expected from strategic spatial planning projects is a critical analysis of the main processes and structural constraints which shape spaces, which adds into a realistic, dynamic, integrated, and indicative long-term vision. It will provide a plan for short-term and long-term actions, a budget, and a flexible strategy for implementation (Albrechts, 2010).

In terms of the projects eventual implementation, it will provide credible commitments to action engagement and a clear and explicit link to the budget thus allowing for citizens, private-sector, different levels of governance, and planners to enter a consensus (Albrechts, 2010).

'We' as planners will expect a different set of tools, tools which will guide the planner on what to expect when acting as a strategic spatial planner. For Albrechts (2010), he finds it unthinkable that the planner should act merely as a neutral observer and refrain from playing a role in the construction of visions and images. Instead, Albrechts suggests that planners should be necessarily involved, and instrumental in substantiating, formulating and implementing images and visions.

This is a logical perspective, as if planners merely observe, there expertise in certain situations are not shared, and their usefulness would be greatly undermined. Strategic spatial planners are to instead, challenge their own 'mental discourse' which limit their creativity, and start anew thus allowing for their creativity and resourcefulness to flow and to be used in formulating, designing, and building new concepts and discourses (Albrechts, 2010).

How useful is it?

Strategic spatial planning is a flexible process that deals with complex problems and is able to mend to a wide range of problems, but also deals with each problem uniquely. This characteristic makes the approach very useful as it applies to a range of different issues. For example; the city of Barcelona started using a strategic planning approach in 1988 in order to enhance the cooperation between the public and private sector with the hope that the enhancement will strengthen the position of the city as a candidate for the Olympic Games (Albrechts, 2010).

The city of Turin which was inspired by Barcelona also undertook a strategic approach in the mid 1990's, for Turin this formed the basis for rethinking the potential of a former monopolistic town that had been highly affected by the rise of the automobile industry. The aim for Strategic spatial planning here was to transform Turin into a European metropolis - "a city of activities and know-how" (Albrechts, 2010:5). For the city of Bilbao, the vision was to transport the city into the economic, financial, and cultural capital of the Atlantic Arc. Lastly, for Prague, strategic spatial planning focused on integrating the city into European structures (Albrechts, 2010). From this it is clear that strategic spatial planning is applicable to a diverse range of issues and can adapt easily to what is required in the context for which it is envisioning, thus rendering it a useful approach to planning.


From the information discussed in this essay the approach of strategic spatial planning has been explained. Through using such an approach to planning it can be deduced that spaces can be become more active and interactive both on a local scale - and the sectors within that scale - and on an international scale.

"In short, episodes of strategic spatial planning informed by "relational complexity" concepts which accumulate sufficient power to "travel" effectively and have enduring material and mental effects should be judged in the long-term in terms of their capacity to enrich the imaginative resources, creative energies and governance cultures through which quality of life and experience of diverse citizens and stakeholders in particular places are likely to be enhanced." (Healey, 2006:19)

Article name: What Is Strategic Spatial Planning Environmental Sciences essay, research paper, dissertation