Professional attitudes in urban planning and management: an exploratory study of the professional culture of Third World planners and planning consultants

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


This research is concerned with the professional culture of planners and planning consultants working on aspects of urban planning and management in Third World settings. Research on planners' professional culture is of intrinsic value in development studies, where little is known about the socio-economic background, values, attitudes, and role orientations of either group despite the key roles both groups play in the management of human settlements. The particular point of departure here, however, is the significance of such research to planning studies. Of particular relevance, in this context, are the critical notions in the current literature on Third World urbanization and planning that the skills and attitudes of planning professionals are not attuned to the economic, social, and environmental questions which lie behind the material aspects of human habitat in Third World countries. This, it is contended, is in part due to the socialization of Third World planners to Western attitudes, standards, and values during their professional training in industrialized countries.

The research reported here represents an attempt to explore these issues, drawing on samples of planning practitioners in several Third World countries (Barbados, Jamaica, India, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) and of planning consultants and academics working regularly on urban problems in Third World settings. The results were derived from a questionnaire survey designed to elicit information on respondents’ role orientations and values, and on their attitudes toward specific issues that relate to the theory and practice of urban planning and management. These include attitudes toward rural-urban migration, the informal sector, squatter settlements, self-help service provision, the use of Western versus indigenous methods and solutions, and receptiveness to current ideas about project replicability and cost recovery.

Findings revealed that Third World planners and planning consultants do share some important professional traits as well as elements of a common culture, with a core of shared ideology, similar to that found among developed-world planners despite the differences in contextual detail. Nonetheless, the study findings point to significant overall differences in the attitudes of Third World planners and planning consultants toward planning issues and professional role orientations. The typical Third World planner is a middle-class male of mid-career age who attaches a good deal of importance to his profession and supports the notion of success via technical competence, and administrative and managerial skills, and yet at the same time pragmatic and grassroots oriented. Furthermore, Third World planners as a group do not see the profession as elitist, nor do they regard Western concepts, methods, or training in developed-world institutions as inappropriate to their professional roles. The typical planning consultant, on the other hand, though also male is somewhat older, is more likely to have a social science than a planning, architecture, or engineering background is more likely to have a higher degree and is rather skeptical about professional effectiveness and egalitarianism.

It is suggested here that the difference between these actors emanates from the differences in the modus operandi of each group. In short, whereas planning consultants have the luxury to conceptualize problems and solutions in stable environments, insulated from the cut and thrust of local practice, Third World planners operating in environments afflicted with rapid change, uncertainty, and instability are of necessity compelled to adopt a more pragmatic outlook. Thus despite the seeming overpowering circumstances, Third World planners were found to be guardedly optimistic, quietly confident, and resiliently content to pursue their ideals. lt was thus concluded that contextual factors to which planners are exposed to are major determinant of planners' professional role orientations and world-views.