The Origin and Early Days of Advocacy Town Planning

Paul Davidoff first introduced the theory of advocacy town planning during the sixties. The essence of the theory is an approach in which the town planning professionals also want to represent the interests of particular groups. It is a planning theory with a distinctly pluralistic character. As a town planner and activist attorney, Davidoff sought to introduce advocacy planning as an essential element in planning to ensure that the interests of low-income and minority groups would also be considered in town planning.

Before the introduction of advocacy planning, professionals within the local governments did all the planning under the guidance of specific commissions. A top-down approach was followed in terms of town planning. In this approach, the planning is carried out without consultation with various interest groups regarding the particular piece of land that is to be developed.

Before the Sixties

During the Industrial Revolution of the 1920s, town planners in Europe planned in response to the poor living conditions of the factory workers. They focused on the creation of utopia-like urban areas. However, the planning was still top-down, with little consultation, if any, with the people that would be affected by the town planning. Because of this approach, many of the planning projects failed. After World War I and II, town planning was focused on reconstruction. The governments in countries that were affected had the daunting task of reconstructing the cities affected by the wars. An elite corps of town planning experts led the planning processes, resulting in the promotion of interests of the more affluent citizens, and completely ignoring the requirements of poorer people.

Addressing the Issue of Top-Down Planning

Paul Davidoff recognised the imbalance of the representation of interests when it came to planning processes. He noticed how the groups at the lower end of the income spectrum were left behind and how the interests of large private firms were promoted. The poorer communities were left vulnerable and their interests ignored in urban development. To address the issue, Davidoff introduced the concept of advocacy planning, in which planners would represent the interests of the oppressed and poorer communities. He wanted an inclusive and pluralistic approach to town planning.

What This Means In practice

This means that the advocacy town planning experts apply their knowledge and skills to represent their clients who come from groups with lower economic living standards. Such groups normally do not have access to the tools, skills, and resources to act on their own and therefore need the help of advocacy town planners to develop plans that also represent their interests. The advocacy town planners then develop the plans to represent the social and economic interests of the groups they represent and submit these to the planning commission. The advantages and disadvantages of each of the plans developed are then considered. In this way, supporting evidence for a particular plan can be submitted and discussed before a final decision is made. With this approach, a particular methodology can be followed by the town planning commission to ensure that the outcome of the decision is fair.

Possible Improvements

According to Davidoff’s theory, it would be possible to improve town planning in three ways if the advocacy town planning process is followed. With it, improved public awareness would follow, as people would participate in the planning process. More people from the communities affected by the planning process would be involved. As such, people would realise that they can choose, and that they can influence planning to also meet their social and economic requirements. Another positive outcome of advocacy town planning would be the provision for town planners to compete, while still representing the interests of the clients. With competition, the standard of planning is improved. A third outcome is that people with objections would get the opportunity to state these objections and provide arguments with supporting evidence for their objections. It thus becomes a democratic process.

Though the above three benefits have been realised by advocacy town planning, it is important for the town planner to help individuals and groups identify factors that influence planning decisions. The town planning professional must provide assistance in creation of acceptable plans, and must encourage participation, as well as cooperation among the interest groups. Call on our town planners for assistance with advocacy town planning in South Africa.