Urban and territorial planning is often considered as the monopoly of public authorities such as local, regional and national governments. Whatever was planned by the government was labelled as formal and legal planning while territorial interventions from individuals and communities without governmental approval is considered as informal and illegal planning. Hence, ‘planning’ is generally viewed as ‘governmental’. While this is less problematic in rare cases where governments are planning for and with the people, their communities and with respect to Mother Earth as the primary stakeholder. As taught by history, this is rather exception than rule.
One school of thought to review the role of government in general and in territorial management is that of the ‘entrepreneurial governments‘. A government acts as entrepreneur when its involvement in market activities is both innovative and characterized by entrepreneurial risk, e.g. building and leasing climate-neutral housing for seniors with day-care facilities for little juniors. Viewing particular government policy actions as entrepreneurial underscores the forward looking nature of policy makers as well as the need to evaluate the social outputs and outcomes of their behavior in terms of broad spillover impacts. Hence, only governments acting as ‘social, environmental and territorial entrepreneurs‘ can live up to the expectation of the SDGs.
A very different school of thought is less or zero government. While certain territories could probably be better of with less government if government is more of an obstacle than an enabler towards sustainable development. Indeed, to many planning systems have become so rigid that less is probably more. However, TCi still believes that democratically elected governments are the less worst option to ensure the quantity and quality of the commons.
The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Global commons is a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global resource domains in which common-pool resources are found. Global commons include the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the high oceans, the atmosphere and outer space and the Antarctic in particular. Global commons require global territorial and environmental agenda’s and policies. For TCi’s take on the Global Territorial Agenda, go here. In ‘The Quito Papers and the New Urban Agenda‘, the ‘commons approach’ is considered as a third way against the binary of public sector – private sector.
Governmental and public institution are not monolithic. ‘Decision-takers’ – in best case democratically elected politicians – are a very particular subgroup with the highest leverage on making change happen through legislation and executive decisions and actions. ‘Decision- makers’ are the public servants preparing the decisions to be taken by the elected politicians. The quality of their policy and legislative proposals is largely determining the quality of the final decisions. While elected politicians are typically not educated or specialized in the matters of their portfolio, decision makers are usually more qualified , hence they are often called ‘technicians’ complementary to ‘politicians’.
While many but certainly not all countries and cities have dedicated ministries and departments dealing with urban or spatial planning, the definition of its mandate or portfolio differs hugely – from land-use regulation to integrated strategic planning and implementation. We also see a plethora of governmental planning agencies being established for specific planning tasks such as preparing country or citywide spatial plans and guidelines – often combined with advocacy roles to increase public awareness on territorial sustainability. Some of these agencies are established in partnership with and/or planning professional bodies. civil society, planning schools and research centers or even with the private sector. Well resourced and publicly controlled planning agencies are usually very helpful in preparing and implementing better spaces and places.
INDIGO is a research project on territorial development, land ownership and governance of land use rights in Flanders (Belgium). It aims to understand how landed commons are co-created, and to contribute to the proliferation of innovative forms of shared land use (rights), cooperation and land valuation.