Beyond Resilience. Is fragility a value that can realign planning with its societal engagements?

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Submission Summary
Resilience is today’s buzzword. Planners, designers, but also politicians and policy makers are looking for solutions and developments that are robust, that are able to cope with challenges, changes and transformations. Global crises, such as climate change and migration are used to justify planning interventions that eventually increase the uneven development of cities and regions. The rationale behind numerous of these interventions is making the area future-proof or robust. But in doing so these interventions fail to incorporate the intrinsic characteristic of our human fragility. In essence we are all social animals and we are all physically vulnerable. Over time, our social organisation gave birth to support structures and care systems to mitigate this fragility. In times of crises and under the guises of the need for austerity measures these structures have increasingly been under pressure. Planning too has drifted away from its visionary, even anarchistic roots. People like Howard, Ruskin or Morris were more concerned about community-building, rather than city-building in the physical form (Hall, 2014). The truth today is that planning seems to have evolved towards a practice that merely enables development and investment, encouraging cities to brand themselves in their competition with other cities in order to attract international companies, investors and the higher income classes. Conversely, the New Urban Agenda calls for cities that are just, safe and healthy and that “foster prosperity and quality of life for all” (emphasis added). Hall (2014) points out that planners start to increasingly pay attention again to the unequal development outcomes of the multiple regeneration schemes and the impact of these redevelopments on the urban dwellers. This attention for the human (thus fragile) urbanites who navigate and make their lives within the messiness and complexity of our cities inspires the quest of this contribution. In this scouting mission I seeks to critically explore how (and if) the notion of fragility can trigger a realignment of planning with its societal engagement in an unapologetically ethical way. The contribution starts with a literature review and bibliometric analysis of the concept of fragility in spatial planning theory. Next it presents a framework for planning that is unapologetically ethical and that foregrounds the concepts of fragility as a strong and guiding principle. The strength of an application of this framework is illustrated with several case-studies from both the global south and global north. In concluding the paper calls to action planners and urban professionals to work in an unapologetically ethical way, based on the ideas presented.
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1: Inclusiveness and empowerment. Al-Majlis: planning with and for communities
Associate Professor
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, TU Delft

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