First Brexit, then Trump. The liberal elites in Europe and beyond are shocked. In a brief statement in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine on 10 November Saskia Sassen has expressed her concerns that a politically incorrect and corrupt real estate mogul has succeeded in getting the votes of the lower middle class, and even many Afro-Americans, Latinos etc in the US. The fact is that for the coming four years, if not longer, a new conservative agenda will rule national political debates and international negotiations in the USA. Furthermore, this agenda will encourage many other conservative parties and conservative groups within civil society in Europe to actively pursue their conservative. sometimes even reactionary agendas. What are the likely implications for planning and the planning profession? I throw a few speculations into the ongoing discourse.
First, we have to learn that the much-praised civil society is not necessarily liberal. While we planners encourage them to participate in planning processes, we seem to have overlooked the values of many of them, their mistrust in experts and reluctance to accept innovations that they see as undermining their comfortable middle-class life.
Second, we have to recognize that the power of populist and social media is stronger than enlightened academic reasoning. Therefore, we have to explore whether, and eventually how, we should or could shift our focus from academic writing on planning to communication with people.
Third, the imminent arrival of a conservative US administration means we have to expect that international actions to reduce global warming and protect natural resources will slow down, with the consequence that environmental concerns will play a less prominent role in local, regional and national political debates.
Fourth, supported by an experienced real estate mogul, bank-supported and profit making real estate development will dominate urban development more than in the past decades. This will not only happen in the US. It will rapidly diffuse to planning- and decision-making environments in Europe. Thereby the role of the public sector will be further discredited. Planning schools will have to adapt to secure jobs for their graduates.
Finally, hopes expressed that the members of the European Union will come closer together to form a counterweight to US policies may become illusory. On the contrary, Brexit and forthcoming new US-policies will encourage some European countries to oppose to further deepening of European policies. This in turn will unavoidably slow down efforts to deliver European cohesion policies and research in related fields. European Spatial Planning will be consigned to an anecdote in the history books.
11 November 2016