Almost thirty years ago, as the social sciences underwent a “discursive turn”, Bernardo Secchi, in what he called the “urban planning narrative”, drew the attention of planners to the production of myths, turning an activity often seen as primarily technical into one centered around the production of images and ideas. This conception of planning practice gave rise to a powerful current of research in English-speaking countries. Efforts were made to both combine the urban planning narrative with storytelling (Throgmorton, 2007, 2003; Sandercock, 2003; Eckstein, Throgmorton, 2003) and to establish storytelling as a prescriptive or descriptive model for planning practice (van Hulst, 2012).
The transition from urban planning narrative to storytelling and the spread of storytelling as the cardinal principle of planning practice, is manifested within what is temptingly labelled “fictional urban planning” (Matthey, 2011); that is, urban planning that tends to substitute narrative production for real production of cities and territory. This is planning that is, ultimately, not too far away from the society of the spectacle as theorised by Guy Debord. ’Fictional urban planning’ radicalises the spectacular apparatuses referred to by Debord (1988) as the “integrated spectacle”, in the sense that “all that which was once directly experienced has now become mere representation”, while at the same time “the spectacle manifests itself as an enormous positivity which cannot be discussed and which is out of reach. [All it says] is ‘What appears is good, and what is good appears’.”
Storytelling, of course, refers to a selective retelling of political communication. It is based on the premise that a good story is more valuable than mere facts. The desire to create fiction that can produce an always-already-present reality (the future urban beach, the next stadium, the Major Project, the inescapable regeneration of docklands…), whose emergence is to be facilitated, can be something other than an aspect of democratic communication—it can be a means of ensuring the collective governmentality of citizens.
Thus, just as storytelling can lead astray democratic communication by the concern for a good story, storytelling applied to the field of urban planning may lead to the increasing production of spectacular projects at the expense of such projects being genuinely integrated into political debate.
It is precisely this transformation of urban planning that this seminar will seek to understand. We will attempt doing this by following three threads:
The first thread will address the issues at stake with this concept of planning based on fiction, both through the critique of urban projects which have storytelling at their core, and through an analysis of the modes of control of public perception and reception of future projects. We will ask ourselves whether the irruption of communicators (actors whose role is to make the issues, difficulties, and schedules more easily comprehensible to the public) within the urban machinery should in fact be seen as a contemporary form of what used to be called propaganda not that long ago. Propaganda is defined as an attempt to lead the public to hold certain political and social ideas in order to support a particular policy.
The second thread will address the links between storytelling and fictional planning and the preceding processes of urban marketing that tell economic stories about cities—in both words and images—in order to communicate a point of view that betrays the territorial breadth and complexity but also increases the legibility of the spaces being promoted. A genetic point of view will be particularly important in this respect.
This territorial marketing, often with an external target, aims to increase the desirability of spaces and to encourage businesses to establish themselves there. What should be made of this urban planning practice based on storytelling? In what ways can the fictionalisation of urban production have a magnetising virtue? In what ways can storytelling within urban planning facilitate the understanding and democratic debate of urban projects?
Finally the third thread, taking a view that is perhaps closer to the sociology of professions, deals with the impact of the new modes of management and public administration. We will seek to understand how the new urban governance has made the fleeting nature and the fictionalisation of interventions into guiding forces behind the revitalisation of cities and how it renders them more visible —while constantly creating, de-creating and re-creating themselves— insinuating a logic of events where previously the logic of continuity and long-term debate were dominant. We will seek to determine if the culture of evaluation may lead to a strange corruption of urban planning practice, with its tools (roundtables, participatory meetings, project exhibitions) being transformed into ends in themselves. All in all, we will be attempting to identify systems and logics of actors that convey this paradigm of urban action.
Using these three focal points, we will attempt to reframe the contemporary transformations of urban planning within a critical perspective, in particular the point where a practice which consists of producing a grand progressive narrative (the urban planning narrative) turns into a machine producing stories (storytelling and fictional urban planning), subject to the double constraint of the idea of “less is more” and the new methods of public management and administration. All in all, the aim is to develop a critical analysis of the new methods of producing cities.
8 h 00 – 8 h 30 : Reception
8 h 30 – 9 h 00 : Opening of the colloquium – salle A
9 h 00 – 10 h 30 : Session 1.1 – salle A : Figures de l’urbain
Moderator : Elena Cogato Lanza, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.
9 h 00 – 10 h 30 : Session 1. 2 – salle B : Les projets urbains: une fiction?
Moderator : Luca Pattaroni, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.
10 h 30 – 10 h 50 : PAUSE
10 h 50 – 12 h 20 : Session 2.1 – salle A : Urban narratives
Moderator : Romain Felli, Université de Lausanne.
10 h 50 – 12 h 20 : Session 2.2 – salle B : La fabrique des images
Moderator : Christophe Mager, Université de Lausanne.
12 h 20 – 14 h 00 : PAUSE
14 h 15 – 16 h 45 : Session 3.1 – salle A : Dire la ville, faire le territoire
Moderator : David Gaillard, Fondation Braillard Architectes.
14 h 15 – 16 h 45 : Session 3.2 – salle B : Paysage en émergence
Moderator : Filippo Zanghi, Université de Lausanne.
16 h 45 – 17 h 15 : Wrap-up of the colloquium – salle A
11th September 2013 in Geneva.
Société de lecture, Grand’Rue 11, CH – 1204 Geneva.
Founded in 1987, the Fondation Braillard Architectes (FBA) is active in the fields of research in urban studies and city sciences, valorisation and conservation of the architectural heritage of the 20th century, and aid toward innovative achievements in architecture and urbanism.
Fondation Braillard Architectes, 16 rue Saint-Léger, CH – 1205 Genève, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.braillard.ch