Expelled from Austria and a perpetual traveler, I have never succeeded organically to be part of the society in which I happen to be living. English was my second language, acquired through persistent study and practice, and even then, a German word or phrase would occasionally come to mind before I can think of its English equivalent. At the end of World War II, when I briefly returned to Vienna as a member of the American occupation forces, I could not connect with even my closest boyhood friend who had remained there after 1940. I had returned as a conqueror, and we had nothing to say to each other. On the other hand, neither could I share much with my dorm mates at the Mt. Hermon School for Boys, a boarding school delightfully located in Western Massachusetts overlooking the Connecticut River, where I completed my high school education. I had grown up without baseball and football, and my musical education was limited to Mozart and Debussy; I knew zilch of American pop and other teen age icons. Furthermore, at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where I spent the academic year 1943/44 prior to induction into the American army, I found myself persona non grata by the fraternity brothers with whom I lodged because of my supposedly “Jewish” ancestry. Despite American citizenship, I could never find an organic connection to my adopted country.
I completed my formal education at the University of Chicago in 1955. The years I spent there had turned out to be truly formative. My first work after receiving the PhD in the inter-disciplinary Program of Research and Education in Planning took me to Brazil, a country whose language I didn’t speak and whose geography was a complete mystery to me. Still, my three years there were the beginning of a life-long engagement with international development. My destiny was to become a sojourner. Sometimes my travels were only brief interludes, others lasted for years. Here is a list of the places where I lived for a time, not counting my first 14 years in Vienna: Germany, Brazil, South Korea, Venezuela, Chile, Japan, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. In none of them was I ever truly “at home.”
This identity status has shaped me, I now realize. What follows is an attempt to describe some fundamental parts of my intellectual enterprise once I had learned to embrace my ambiguous social position. Perhaps Karl Mannheim who invented the Sociology of Knowledge and had written the first serious book on democratic planning was right when he thought of intellectuals as “free floating” (freischwebendeIntelligenz) (Friedmann, 1960). He imagined them as unmoored from social class and habitus, but perhaps also from commitments to ideologies, political parties, social movements, and all the rest. As an unmoored intellectual, I would need to construct my own philosophical foundations for how to live correctly in the world.
Late one night, sitting at my desk in Santiago da Bahia and only the sound of the ocean in my ear, I made what I can only describe as an existential decision: I would make myself into an intellectual in the European sense of the term. I loved the life of ideas, wanted to get to the bottom of how they evolve and work their way into the everyday world of affairs, and with the degrees the University of Chicago had bestowed on me, I would do so as a planner. In short, what I implicitly rejected with this decision was a form of planning conceived as a narrowly bounded profession. I imagined it instead as an unbounded enterprise—unbounded at least by institutional conventions—not for its own sake but as always engaged with and in the world. Small wonder, then, that I fastened onto planning theory as a still unexplored terrain, even as I engaged with practical issues of, for example, regional development policy, which was the specific area of my expertise.
As a planning theorist, a central preoccupation was also the perennial challenge: “what is planning?” So formulated, the question is of course unanswerable. There are no metaphysical definitions of either being or becoming a planner, and unadorned by any adjective, we can make of planning whatever we will, depending on one’s circumstances and dispositions. But to be a planner—at least this much I knew—is to be oriented towards the future. As well, the word suggests some form of action that, however small, will help to pave the way into the future.
It took me years before I could resolve the puzzle of my original question. I regarded city planners as regulators of urban space and urban designers as artists of spatial organization. As a “regional planner,” which was my own métier, I imagined some sort of market intervention by the state in the spatial allocation of investments. Yet, whenever I thought about planning without a qualifying adjective, it had to be more broadly conceived. Following Hanna Arendt, I proposed acting to mean “setting something new into the world”: an innovative act, a new beginning (Friedmann 1987). This relatively simple definition, however, entails five important operations: (1) a strategyand tactics about how to proceed, (2) an ethical judgment by which the action itself can be justified, (3) the assumption of responsibility for the consequences of action, which inevitably entails risks (not all consequences can be foretold), (4) an ongoing politics to shepherd and guide the process of innovation as it begins to take hold, and (5) a process of feedback about the flow of events that allows for correction and social learning in the ongoing processes of change. The original question—what is planning?—thus demanded a complex philosophical answer.
Although I had embraced planning as a life project, I was also a stranger in the world, a traveler, who needed something other for its full realization, not any prêt- á-porter ideology. What might be the metaphysics of planning ? Its epistemology? Did planning have moral foundations? Was it perhaps subsumed under a broadly conceived philosophy of practice? It is to these questions that I now turn.
I confess a weakness for Chinese philosophy. Indeed, in my book on transactive planning (Friedmann 1973, 185-9), I included a short section entitled “The Tao of Transactive Planning.” Some critics contemptuously dismissed this as a modish conceit from La-la land (I was living in Los Angeles at the time). But I was serious. Here, I will merely summarize my Daoist view by referring to the yinyang dialectics that animates the universe.1 In Daoist beliefs, the cosmos is in constant movement, pervaded by two energy flows (qi), which together constitute a unity of opposites. In contrast to western thinking, which obliges one to choose between two opposing propositions (“they cannot both be true”), and in which dialectics takes the form of a confrontation, Chinese tradition holds that opposites, though in principle needing to be harmonized, are nonetheless in a continual state of tension: the yin force (which also contains some of its opposite energy) and the yang force (which likewise contains elements of yin)—neither force being entirely “pure” so that transformation is an ever-present possibility—alternate in their relative strength. The Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching) traces these dynamics via an ingenious system of 64 hexagrams. In this constant play of energies, no situation ever remains the same but is undergoing often subtle changes favouring one force over another. 2
I believe that this metaphysics has a great deal of explanatory power, especially when studying Chinese historical experience. But I believe it to be useful also in the western world where we are more accustomed to think in terms of either/or rather than both/and. It is particularly applicable in planning conflicts. I don’t want to draw too sharp a distinction between western and Chinese ways of thinking and acting, because clearly we who live in the West also know how to negotiate and compromise in order to move forward. But the yinyang dialectics is a built-in characteristic of many Chinese institutions and practices in ways that they are not in our world.
An epistemology for planning
At the University of Chicago (1949-55), I was thrown headlong into agitated discussions about the place of values in the social sciences. We debated Max Weber’s thesis of a value-free sociology dedicated to arriving at statements whose truth value could be vouchsafed. And what was knowledge, the winning side maintained, if not a form of truth-telling? Truth-telling, they argued, required a stripped down, operational language, with precisely bounded concepts shorn of linguistic embellishments that might express the writer’s feelings about the matter at hand. Truth-telling, they claimed, involved uncontaminated factual statements that could be mapped directly onto the world.
On the other hand, my fellow students and I were aspiring to be planners who, as the cliché had it, wanted to “change the world.” And if this was so, what, if we adopted the prevailing positivist position would happen to social justice or a more inclusive development? And didn’t the exciting new study of socio-economic development, which had just surfaced, have, as one of its great practitioners put it, an inherent “bias for hope” (Hirschman 1971)? Did positivistic science even allow for a category called “hope?” In our theory classes, we read the great John Dewey: in his large corpus on pragmatism, there was scarce mention of “truth” and “truth-telling” (Healey 2008; see also Rorty 1979, Bernstein 1971). Instead of a never-ending search for truth, Dewey emphasized experience as a source of knowing.
Acquiring knowledge, then, was something like a trapeze act without a net. It required initiating actions where nothing was ever guaranteed. In 1955, with Ph.D. in hand, I set out for Brazil as a missionary of the new technology of regional planning. It would take me 20 years before I could confidently speak of a distinctive epistemology for planning.3 In Retracking America, I listed my then current understanding of social-scientific knowledge from a planning perspective, which I had learned, as Dewey had taught us, from reflections on years of personal experience as a “planner” (Friedmann 1973, pp. 129-30):
Knowledge is cumulative only within the assumptions of “normal” science.
Knowledge is not the accumulation of “solid” facts but arises from the interplay of theories and counter-theories, each drawing on its own set of data and interpretations.
The more general the knowledge about a range of phenomena, the fewer details it encompasses; but the reverse is also true: the more detailed the knowledge, the narrower its focus.
Different kinds of knowledge are not always directly convertible into each other.
The larger the number of variables within a single explanatory model, the greater is the effect of random occurrences on the results obtained.
Reality, and consequently knowledge of reality, is literally inexhaustible. We never have enough time to exhaust all possibilities for improving our understanding of a given reality. At any one moment, therefore, knowledge of reality is an infinitesimally small heap of sand on the “plains of common ignorance” and is tied to the ephemeral and narrow range of the phenomena to which our attention has temporarily turned.
It was this understanding of the limits of a “scientific” knowledge of society that led me to propose an epistemology of “mutual learning” that involved a variety of potential actors and planners who had come together to consider a common undertaking. It took me another five years before I dared to venture a formal critique of Karl Popper’s theory of “objective” or “scientific” knowledge” (Friedmann 1978).4 From a perspective of planning as innovation , I argued that our primary task is to venture new beginnings, each intervention generating a stream of new “facts” as the consequences of more or less risky actions begin to materialize. Social practices (one of my terms for planning in this chapter) proceed through a process of social learning. I counter-posed this to Popper’s advice that scientists had an obligation to do their best to falsify hypothetical statements about the world. Take his famous example of the swans: if, per hypothesis, all swans are said to be white, discovering a single black swan would invalidate the hypothesis; the science of swans would have to be revised. But truth by falsification is not the business of planners nor of planning as a collective endeavour. If black swans were a threatened species, our job might well be to find ways of protecting them.5 Falsification of universal claims is not the business of planners.
A moral foundation for planning
To choose a vocation—in this case, planning—is a personal commitment to an intrinsically meaningful way of life. I had come into planning with only the haziest idea of what was entailed by my choice . My father was a professor of history, and following in his footsteps was an attractive option, but after three years in the army and two years studying social science at the undergraduate level, I was drawn to what I thought was a more socially engaged calling. The year was 1949, and Chicago admitted students to graduate work after only two years of undergraduate studies. After taking a battery of tests, I was admitted to the Planning Program with the promise of a Master’s degree at the end of three years. It would take a great deal more experience and reflection, however, before I fully understood what it means to be a planner. After I had become Head of the Urban Planning Program at UCLA in 1969, I began to work on Retracking America, my first major foray into planning theory (Friedmann 1973). Until then, I had drifted from job to job, country to country, as opportunities appeared. But what I had learned from working in Brazil, Korea, Venezuela, and Chile didn’t come together to make sense until the writing of a book that on publication proved to be a minor academic success, with over 20,000 copies sold, followed by a reprinting (with a new Preface) by the Rodale Press.
I called this way of planning “transactive,” because central to it was the idea of open communication, or interpersonal dialogue, that is to say a dialogicrelation between planners and those with whom they work (I called them “clients,” a rather unfortunate word as I now look back on it). I wrote that transactive planning involved “processes of mutual learning that are closely integrated with an organized capacity and willingness to act” (op. cit., 247). And in a glossary of new terms, I defined dialogue as “a form of person-centered communication, generally requiring face-to-face interaction …” (op. cit., 244).
I had learned about dialogue from Martin Buber’s work (1965). Buber was a Viennese Jewish philosopher for whom a genuine encounter between two people—listening and responding to each other’s concerns and needs—had a quasi-religious meaning. His dialogue, as I understood it, foreshadowed Jürgen Habermas’ more secular concept of “communicative action” (1979), which has greatly influenced the communicative paradigm of planning that was to evolve in North America during the 1980s and 90s, with contributions by John Forester, Judith Innes, and others. Be that as it may, I now believe that, given its emphasis on small action groups within or, indeed, outside the institutional framework of the state, inter-personal dialogue is capable of providing a moral foundation for planning. You might ask why dialogue should be so considered. I turned to address this question in my next book, The Good Society, which appeared in 1979.
A broadly based philosophy of radical practice
The 1970s turned out to be a decade-long transition both for me personally and for the world at large. I will discuss this at some length in Part 3 of this essay. Suffice it to say that it was a period when the interventionist welfare state that had dominated policy making in the post-war era was morphing into the neoliberal state of today, bringing in its wake a profound economic and social restructuring. My literary exploration of a “good society” was an attempt to develop a new vision for a society engaged in radically transforming itself. The book that emerged was not a systematic effort to analyze what was happening. Its aphoristic, semi-poetic style foreshadowed a post-modern sensibility. I was looking for ways to express a philosophy of countervailing actions that we might want to take even as the old order was collapsing all around us.
The planning style it propounded was innovative and inter-personal, no longer geared to institutionalized planning but carried forward through the committed work of small action groups—good societies all—and larger social movements engaged in radical practice. The era I was writing about was awash with social movements: feminist, anti-war, black power, anti-poverty, and the so-called third sector of organized civil society manifest in hundreds of thousands of non-governmental and other voluntary and community organizations that had sprung up to fill the vacuum left by a retreating state. Dialogue, the defining relationship of the good society, is a form of both genuine speech and deep listening, with the power to transform those who practice it. Dialogue also limits its size, which I argued are groups composed of 72 individuals. Small action groups have only a temporary existence, but they are the yeast that nourishes larger social movements, confirming the non-violent powers of an organized civil society. I thought of it as a process of transformative change from the ground up, and called its practice radical.
To my delighted surprise, the manuscript was accepted and published by The MIT Press, but it was not the commercial success I had hoped for (Friedmann 1979a).
The front cover of the book was a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder: Adam and Eve. What does this painting have to do with the good society? Here are the final paragraphs from the book (Friedmann 1979, 180-81):
Adam and Eve rebelled against their God; they were estranged from God. Cast out into the world, they recovered themselves, they recovered their freedom. Alone and together.
Without choice there is no freedom; without necessity there is no choice. From the realm of necessity there is no “leap” into the realm of freedom. We have to overcome necessity.
The Garden was God’s garden. But earth is our home. And “home is where one starts from,” said T.S. Eliot.
To travel to what is farthest, we must go by the path that is nearest.
We must transcend the Good Society.
Reading The Good Society today, I am startled how prescient this text now seems in light of contemporary urban social movements such as “Occupy Wallstreet” or the people’s movements in Egypt and Turkey mediated by cell phones and other social media, or South America’s teeming landscape of movements. I think of these largely spontaneous actions of a rebellious civil society as materializations of the “good society” in a struggle that, despite its provocations, is essentially non-violent. Their organization is cellular. Their objectives are clear: protest injustice, an oppressive state, an unresponsive bureaucracy, and a way of being that prefigures a new world.
Some readers may think that what I have described here as radical practice cannot (should not?) be called planning. But as a form of radical practice, who would deny that in the neoliberal and violent world of today it I precisely these movements that are often the principal sources of positive change and perhaps our one best hope for a better society?
2. Wanderjahre—Apprenticeship Years
The Second World War had erased dark memories of the Great Depression and national states everywhere were charged with managing the economy: in the United States, the welfare state created during Roosevelt’s New Deal favoured planning as a means for transiting from a war- to a peace-time economy with a particular focus on metropolitan regions; in Western Europe, the state was charged with reconstruction; and the newly decolonized states, Nehru’s India in the lead, embraced ideas of a planned economy. Planning was the new soft technology that would put nations, cities, and regions on the path to progress. The Dutch economist Jan Tinbergen had created the first macro-economic model which underlies national policy making and was awarded the Nobel Prize. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America, under the leadership of the Argentinian economist Raúl Prebisch, promoted an endogenous model of industrialization via import-substitution, and economic aid from the United States soon required submission of national plans to the so-called Alliance for Progress as a basis for allocating foreign resources to Latin American countries. In France, the noted economist Jean Monnet worked assiduously in partnership with Robert Schuman and others towards a European economic union. And Harvard econometrician Wassily Leontief invented input-output analysis as a tool for economic planning. He, too, was crowned with the Nobel Prize.
Naturally, this grand vision of a planned economy in democratic, capitalistic countries was a contentious affair. At the University of Chicago, one of my professors, Julius Margolis, taught us the fundamentals of social accounting, while Rexford Tugwell, the founding Director of our Program and former Governor of Puerto Rico, dreamed of planning as a Fourth Power alongside the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the Federal government . But only a few steps away, on the floor above the offices of the Planning Program, the young Milton Friedman lectured to spellbound crowds of students with his rhetoric of a free enterprise economy freed from statist constraints. His ideological comrade-in-arms, Friedrich Hayek, whose anti-planning polemic, The Road to Serfdom (1944) had caused a storm of contention in postwar Britain, had recently joined the university’s prestigious Committee on Social Thought. He, too, eventually received a Nobel Prize, though not until 1974, when the prize was shared with another polymath, the Swedish Gunnar Myrdal, who had served as the first Executive Secretary of the United Nations Commission for Europe (1947-57) and was a persuasive advocate of planning in all its forms. In the mid-seventies , to plan or not to plan appeared to be the question at stake.
I mention these distinguished names to make two points: first, to show that in the postwar era, planning and specifically some forms of national economic planning and/or long-range policy-making based on the instrumentalities of national accounts, was the intellectual environment in which my own ideas on planning were formed; and second, to foreshadow what I call here the “historic break,” as the two champions of the neoliberal revolution—Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek—finally came into their own during the 1970s, prevailing in the Anglo-America of Thatcher and Reagan. With the gradual retreat of the state and the rise of institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, all of them based in Washington D.C., the focus of planning had to be rethought. The well-known slogan that encouraged us in the late 70s and 80s to “think global, act local” is emblematic of this shift.
Prior to the 1970s, my personal experiences and thus also my evolving views on planning had been shaped by my work in Brazil, South Korea, Venezuela, and Chile: all of them, except for Venezuela, would today be considered, to use a phrase dear to Washingtonian apologists, “emerging economies.” But we tend to forget that their successful spurt of economic growth was for the most part generated under the iron hand (mano dura) of military rule, with a law-and-order state that was enthusiastically supported by a series of American governments aiming at global hegemony and dedicated to the creation of a safe space for capital accumulation. I turn now specifically to my own academic work as a planner.
My artist daughter was born in 1959 during our stay in Korea. I worked in the development policy section of the U.S. Operations Mission (USOM) from 1958 to 1961. As my two year term came to an end, I was offered another appointment, this time to the U.S. aid program in Turkey. But with a new baby and weary of yet another cultural immersion, my wife and I decided against it. Once we returned to the States, I would look for a job in the academy. After several false starts, I learned of an opening at MIT’s Department of Planning in the School of Architecture and Planning. The Department, led de facto by Lloyd Rodwin whose interests were, in many respects, similar to my own, was looking for someone to teach in the area of regional planning while doing research in connection with an exciting collaborative project that was about to be launched in Venezuela. The government of Venezuela had created the Guayana Development Corporation (CVG) to plan and build an urban-industrial “growth pole” at the confluence of the Orinoco and Caroní Rivers in the eastern part of the country. The Corporation’s President, a Colonel (later General) in the Venezuelan army with an engineering degree from MIT, had invited the Joint Center for Urban Studies at MIT/Harvard to help with this ambitious undertaking: constructing a hydro-electric dam, setting up a large steel works, and designing a new city for its workers, employees, and others yet to come. Assistance would take two forms: on-site consulting and project-related research. A two-year stint with the regional studies division of the Tennessee Valley Authority, my Brazilian background, and my experience in Korea had made me a logical choice for the position, which I happily accepted. The next four years were spent inventing the new sub-discipline of regional development planning.
I threw myself into this challenge. Regional studies had recently been boosted in the English-speaking world through Walter Isard’s path-breaking research on spatial economics, which he had called regional science (Isard 1960). Isard, an economist with a penchant for mathematical modeling, had founded a department dedicated to the new discipline at the University of Pennsylvania. When I learned that William Alonso, his first PhD, had just been appointed to an associate professorship at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, we met to plot out a book of readings, which ended as a somewhat longish, 700 page exercise in collecting an eclectic selection of articles around five major topics: space and planning; location and spatial organization; theory of regional development (including resources, migration, urban history in developed countries; and problems of the rural periphery); national policy for regional development; and a guide to the literature. The MIT Press accepted our manuscript—I forget how we managed to do it all in this pre-Internet era—and in the end, it turned out that we had won the lottery: before this edition went finally out of print, more than 20,000 copies had been sold, and the publisher asked us to prepare a second edition (Friedmann and Alonso, 1964).
As we complied, here is how we introduced the new volume:
In the few years that nations have sought economic development as an explicit policy goal it has become clear that the arithmetic of macro-economics has need of and is made more powerful by the geometrics of regional considerations. (op. cit., 1)6
With ninety percent new material, the second edition carried a brand-new title: Regional Policy: Readings in Theory and Applications (Friedmann and Alonso, 1975). In my literature review (ch. 37), I put on a brave face when I wrote: “A decade’s work has yielded a rich harvest. It has not only strengthened the theoretical foundations of regional planning but has extended knowledge from policy analysis and the evaluation of actual experiences with regional planning in a variety of national settings” (op. cit., 791).
I say brave, because it was pure bravado to claim that regional development planning would survive another decade, and that by 1984, perhaps, a third edition would be in the offing. In fact, when we assembled the second edition, it hadn’t quite dawned on us that the world was already gearing up to the coming neo-liberal revolution, and that state-led planning would be one of its first victims. I don’t know how many copies of Regional Policy were eventually sold, but I doubt it was much more than ten percent of the successful first edition. As one critic observed, by the mid-seventies, regional planning had begun to “sound boring.” Four decades later, I described it as the “last hurrah” of an era that was about to disappear forever (Friedmann 2001, 392). Our collection had failed to register the rise of environmental consciousness that would evolve its own brand of regionalism and had skirted other forms as well, such as the resurgence in many parts of the world of cultural regionalism as a political force.7
But let us leave this funereal mood and allow me to return to the preceding decade and my involvement with the Guayana project, which eventually led me to write Regional Development Policy: A Case Study of Venezuela (Friedmann, 1966).8 Ciudad Guayana was a steel city that successfully promoted Venezuela’s eastern region as a vital link in the country’s space economy.Today, it has a population of about one million. At the start of this research, however, I had a serious confrontation with Professor Rodwin, the co-director of this collaborative project and my de facto boss.9 He had asked me to concentrate my study on the Guayana region itself, but I argued that since this region was still largely uninhabited, it would make more sense to undertake a national policy study of regional development that would provide a broader context for our project. Rodwin did not like to be contradicted while I, as usual, was stubborn and stuck to my guns. In the end, I believe that extending the scope of my study to the whole of the national territory turned out to be correct, but in Rodwin’s view, I had been wilful and insubordinate. At the end of my four years at MIT and despite my many publications, I failed to get tenure and resigned.
The time had come to put my skills as a regional planner to a test. A year earlier, the Ford Foundation had started a demonstration program of building community facilities as an integral part of public housing programs in Santiago and elsewhere. The idea had originally come at the behest of the American aid program, an arm of the State Department. What I did not know at the time was that this was a policy move on part of the U.S. government to counter the growing civil unrest and sense of disaffection among working class Chileans at a time when the then current government of Jorge Alessandri—scion of one of Chile’s most prominent political families and an arch-conservative—was drawing to an end. The perennial fear during these cold war times was a communist take-over, with Chile, according to the American domino theory of history, the first potential domino. In the Presidential elections of 1964, a center-left coalition of the Christian Democrats had voted Eduardo Frei and his Christian Democratic Party into power in expectation of a six-year period of fundamental economic and social reforms. The modest community facilities program was meant to reinforce the Frei agenda (to the extent that it was known in Washington) and thus “save the world for democracy.” This was actually a ridiculous notion, made worse by a cumbersome process of delivering assistance services. Dysfunctional from the start and despite spending a lot of money, the program never got properly off the ground.
In February 1965, Foundation representatives obtained an interview with the new President. A memorandum of conversation records the basic understanding reached on this occasion. Paragraph 2 of this memorandum is reproduced below:
The President has a special interest that the advisory service solicited be principally be oriented towards the formation of administrative and learning institutions, the training of personnel, and the collection of basic information that will make it possible to put the programs that interest us on a solid foundation. These advisory services may be made operational through specific agreements with each of the interested institutions, but should be related to each other, as may be advisable, in order to maintain the unity of purpose which they are seeking. (Friedmann 1969, 9)10
The institutions President Frei had in mind included the newly created National Planning Office (ODEPLAN) for regional planning; the newly restructured Ministry of Housing and Development (MINVU) for urban policy, community facilities, rural housing, and related services; the National Council for Popular Promotion working directly out of the Presidential Office; and the Catholic University of Chile, where the creation of a teaching and research Center for Urban Development (CIDU) was to be brought into being. But the important thing was the President’s phrase concerning “unity of purpose.” The Foundation recruited me to shut down what still remained of the old program and to coordinate the various undertakings of the new commitment. We knew that time was short: Eduardo Frei was constitutionally prevented from a second term, and his term of office would end in 1970. Effectively we had only four years to obtain agreements with the various participating institutions, recruit personnel, and provide such program assistance as might be requested.
In the eyes of our hosts, we must have done well. When I left Chile in 1969, I received an honorary doctorate from the Catholic University (the second only after the poet Pablo Neruda) and a medal from the government. But in my own assessment, we had barely begun our work. The details can be found in my final report to the Foundation (Friedmann 1969). Here I will limit myself to summarize what the experience had taught me. Much of what I learned is incorporated (though without specific attribution) in Retracking America, discussed in Part I above. To be more specific: it was in the course of my continuing reflections in Santiago—one part of me critically observing what the other part was doing—that the crucial discovery came to me as I awoke one morning and had the insight that planning could be theorized productively as the linking of knowledge with action, a formula that would eventually replace the traditional but still popular self-understanding of planning as a form of rational decision-making.11 The second discovery was that planning as innovation necessarily involves a process of continuous mutual learning by all concerned. And the third was the critical importance for successful practice of dialogic inter-personal relations.
This was not all I learned, however. The major practical lesson for me was the insight that planning is an intensely political practice in the sense of being fully immersed in a politicized context. This is not a lesson taught in planning schools, where students typically learn a set of technical skills devoid of any notion of the political context in which these skills might be deployed. But a stripped down rationality simply won’t work in the political sphere. Planning, and especially innovative planning, is also a form of political action or it remains an empty gesture (Abers 2013). The implications of a planning embedded in the political sphere are indeed major. Without strong support from politically powerful groups no plan is ever likely to succeed. Planners must thus constantly be thinking about how to mobilize support, align with sympathetic political factions, and consider various strategies of action. Yet even with extensive societal support, the winds of politics blow hot and cold from different directions. In Chile and within the span of a single decade, liberal Christian democrats had replaced a Tory President who would, in turn, be replaced by a Popular Front coalition, only to be finally pushed aside by a military coup that was aligned with American corporate interests. The politics here was essentially global but with specific national characteristics (a six-year presidency, a landed oligarchy, the influence of the Catholic Church, etc.).
Chile, however, is not unique in this regard, and any other place might serve as well to illustrate the primacy of politics in planned undertakings. Under these conditions, long-range planning becomes virtually impossible, since every political constellation holding power will try to wipe the slate clean of the past and put their own people into controlling positions, click ”delete” on the previous regime’s agenda, and send oppositional figures into exile, prison, or retirement. I will give a small example of how divisive politics can be even on a small scale within a university.
By the time I left Chile in June 1969, The Center for Urban Development (CIDU) which we had established at the Catholic University was successfully running graduate courses and doing funded research for the government. A year later, I returned at the invitation of its Director, Guillermo Geisse, to lead a small research project whose aim was to sketch a conceptual plan for the Central region commissioned by ODEPLAN that included the metropolitan area of Santiago as well as the coastal region of Valparaíso and its port. CIDU was physically housed in what had once been a three-level private residence. On entering this building in July 1970, I was told that I would find Geisse’s office on the second floor and further, and that CIDU’s political ecology had changed: the ground floor was now occupied by staff members sympathetic to the Christian Democrats, while the top floor had been pre-empted by the Allende (Popular Front) Coalition.Communication between the first and third floors had all but ceased. For all practical purposes, CIDU had split into two halves, held in delicate balance only through the power of the Director’s Office on level two. The Allende folks were already plotting to take over CIDU as soon as their party came to power. With the help of two staff members from the ground floor, I managed to complete a draft sketch for the Región Central, but of course nothing ever came of it. The newly installed Allende government had alredy pressed the all-purpose “delete” button.
I had already had a similar experience in Brazil, where my work at the Federal University of Bahia quickly unravelled after a military coup in 1964 sent many of our staff into exile, and I had also watched South Korea come under the sway of military rule under General Park Chung-Hee. It was these serial experiences that finally persuaded me to return to the academy in my adoptive country. Harvey S. Perloff, my dissertation advisor and long-time friend, had just been appointed Dean of the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UCLA and invited me to join his faculty to head up a new Planning Program. And so, in June 1969, we moved to Los Angeles.12