Assessing Human Geography And Planning Cultural Studies Essay

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Human geography is such that a two way traffic between itself and a wide range of other subjects has been formed, making the underlying definition as well as its controversial relationship with planning much harder than one might have initially thought (Holloway. S et al, 2003 pXV). Despite the developments within planning which have allowed professional accreditation and clear career trajectories, it can be argued the two disciplines could not be further apart (Campbell. S and Fainstein. S S. 2003. P10). For the human geographer, there has been the constant desire not to bring up the word 'Plan' in literature, lectures and in debates in what seems to be scholarly work devoted to the ways in which humans react with their surroundings, capturing something of the contempt in which planning might perhaps be held (Campbell. S and Fainstein. S S. 2003. P10). Although the two continue to evolve in accordance with the changing patterns of modern day society, they continue to place an apparent distance or resentment between their often similar arguments, as if the two fail to accept that there are more similarities than differences (Campbell. S and Fainstein. S S. 2003. P10).

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The question which many have asked of such a well established and prolonged feud, is why geographers and planners deny their essential and almost fundamental links with one another. This resentment can clearly be contested and has been subject to debate for many years. In the case of some of the by-products of planning in the 21st century, they have arguably been made alongside innovations in cultural geography. A careful observation towards their chronological rise to the academic realm shows that there are a number of junctures where the two meet.

Geography as a discipline has constantly evolved. It has shifted through the major divisions of academic life, whilst creating a long history of both intellectual and practical activities (Livingstone, 1992 taken from Holloway. S et al, 2003 p51-52). Through its introduction to new and more innovative thinkers over time such as Alexander Von Humboldt and Carl Ritter, we have seen the development of these different geographical paradigms, encompassing contrasting outlooks within human geography whilst contributing to a sceptical 'family tree'.

These paradigms have contributed to its status at Universities, where weighty moral and philosophical debates have been able to come to the fore (Withers and Mayhew, 2002. Taken from Holloway. S et al 2003 p6). These paradigms have also reflected on the levels of social change within society, being an indication of where geographers have shifted between other subjects in order to answer to a more relevant, crucial and prominent debate. Where shifts occur within each of its paradigms, we have seen the introduction of new key thinkers who contribute to its dominance, being essential building blocks for the geography and planning disciplines (Holloway. S et al, 2003 p8).

Planning, shifting from a purely straightforward and largely utopian ideal, to that shaped by the inter-disciplinary nature of identity which geography has held at its core, has further enhanced its concepts through use of the geographical ideas. Consumer behaviour, migration patterns and other demographic characteristics, along with paradigmatic shifts such as the empiricist, humanistic and behaviourist branches within geography have also been replicated into these developments within planning, such that geography has facilitated planning.

Empiricist geographies began with the gradual development of historical relics, including the key thinkers such as David Livingstone, Henry Morton Stanley, Alexander Von Humboldt and Carl Ritter. Empiricist geographies are also linked with the development of cartography where empires, during an era of exploration, aimed to calculate and document the lands surrounding them. These drawings and calculations made through cartographic and navigational skills would eventually be used heavily in the interest of collecting data and in urban planning, where typical designs and master 'blueprint' plans of cityscapes showed overhead designs of the symmetry, power and hegemony reflecting on the findings and stature of the empire (Taylor. N. 1998. P14).

This first, empiricist paradigm of geographical thought expanded on the need to record data and gather scientific information to enhance the British Empire. Many consider that the origins of this first form of modern Geographical thought can also be traced back as far as the century after Columbus in Western Europe (Hefferman. M taken from Holloway. S et al, 2003 p4). During this time, expansion coupled with the technological revolutions such as the innovations in shipbuilding, naval technology and navigation, allowed the European trade market to vastly expand its reach (Livingstone, 1992: 32-62 Taken from Holloway. S et al 2003 p4). Through this geographical endeavour, organisations such as the RGS (Royal geographical Society) were able to encounter new cultures, new spaces and new markets for trade. This particular organisation was set up in 1830 in London, and continues to be the largest Geographical society in the World today. It aimed to combine the new, popular activity of travel within the British aristocracy and urban bourgeoisie, with learning about new spaces and new places, making this early empiricist discipline into the beginnings of a spatial science (Holloway et al 2003 p6). This idea of a more theoretical approach, made the discipline far more useful and inviting for national projects, with key influences coming from the likes of sociologists, Patrick Geddes and Paul Vidal de la Blache. Now, the discipline of Geography had begun its shift to a more regional approach, with the subject frequently being used within the early ideas of Town Planning. Many also argue that this development of a Regional Science had been as a consequence of the academic subjects of Geography, Planning and Economics being combined (Flowerdew. R 1997 p15), which not only looked at the local statistics of populations, but looked to see how the humanities altered and changed.

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In the case of planning, some of the earliest cities encountered by empiricist geographers such as Damascus, Alexandria, Turin, Rome, Venice and Florence were laid out and arranged according to a fixed plan, characteristic of the civilisations during the third millennium and used as templates for the designs seen today. Explorers of such areas have allowed these ideas of deliberately planned cities, with symmetry and grid patterns, intricate water supplies and logical order to be replicated in the Western Society during the renaissance. It seems that planning has followed through paradigms in similar ways to geography, with the 'empiricist planning' paradigm indicating the gradual shift from the control by wealthy elites towards the growing movement for healthy workers, happy environments, green surroundings and modern designs.

This empiricist paradigm of geographical thought is but one example of a number of others that show the juncture between planning and geography. In some cases, it has become well known that the previous terms used to describe the planning practice (urban planning, urban and regional planning, town and country planning) conventionally means something more limited, referring to a more spatial and geographical component, in which the main objective is to provide for a spatial structure of activities. This relationship between urban and regional planning, along with the various types of spatialized planning is interestingly like the relationships between the discourse of planning and geography.

Humanistic and cultural paradigms of geographical thought are another example of the strong link between human geography and planning. This paradigm became increasingly popular during the 1970s, when very few geographers had identified their discipline as the epicentre of social science: being more than two decades later before concepts of place, space and identity became officially central to its study (Holloway S 2003 et al p55). Here, geographers became analytical towards the spirit behind places, where certain areas may evoke affection, and where others may portray a significant sense of awe. Key thinkers behind this form of geography such as Yi-Fu Tuan, presented human geography as a social science, with a central idea that what made people human was their intense, sensual and often passionate attachment to place (Tuan 1976 taken from Holloway. S 2003, p56). His ideas were also strongly linked with globalisation, which had now become a buzzword in the studies of its time (Johnston. RJ 1979 p147). A geographer now shifted to the study of how the global could affect the local, how homogenisation affected subjects such as languages and identities and how globalisation contributed to a loss of their sense of place.

These humanistic and cultural upheavals in geography are also evident in planning. The process of rationality in planning theory and practice, popular in the early 20th century and considered as the actual process of doing planning, was not criticised for their lack of social blindness, emptiness and lack of contentedness until the 1970s, when the popular geographical upheavals showed that the contrasting spaces, places, culture and identity were also important in the creation of a plan (Taylor. N. 1998. P40). Planners around this time also found that the clean, modern, symmetrical, and efficient lines which famous designers such as Le Corbusier, Abercrombie and Howard encouraged, lacked any form of social cohesion or community feeling, forcing the modernist perspectives of planning to fall into decline. Planning during the 1970s suffered a severe amount of criticism, being blamed for the rise of 'artificial cities', with writers such as Jacobs, Alexander, Campbell, Fainstein and Friedman writing about the major 'gap' between theory and practice and their inability to properly perform a plan (Taylor. N. 1998. P40).

Sceptics around this time argued that planning was meaningless, unnecessary, far too synthetic and born out of the architectural desire to continually design urban agglomerations without prior consideration of the public. They argued that planning has merely extended from the aesthetic origins of architecture and urban design, with their practice consisting of the same tools, same practices, same theories and the same ideals as that of the architecture student (Taylor. N. 1998. P9).

In similar vein to the paradigmatic shifts in geographical thought, planning prior to the 1970s had shifted to a more sympathetic profession, being more considerate of the social and geographical aspects of modern city life, the growing green community, the diversity in the modern day society, the growing threat of global warming and the need for more socially cohesive solutions for developmental problems.

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Planning's chronological timeline has thus shifted from utopian ideals and philanthropic practices, to that centred on the ideas behind rational comprehensiveness, disjointed incrementalism and other critical theories as to what planners actually do in practice. The discipline has continually been under pressure to define itself, often leading to the over-use of other subjects in an attempt to do so. Planning hotly denies any links with the social sciences (Taylor. N. 1998. P4). It argues that planning includes an array of aspects not commonly taught in the curriculum of geography, such as urban design (Taylor. N. 1998. P4). Much of the original literature in planning also denies such links with geography. It uses unnecessarily complicated and obscure language which is impenetrable to the average student who may be searching for the similarities between the two (Taylor. N. 1998. P40).

The two paradigms used to show the reality of the junctures between planning and geography are only some of the examples brought up in academic literature. To further enhance the link between the two disciplines, there is also a need to consider a third example, taken from a more recent point in time.

As another case study to portray the similarities between the now modern planning movement, and the human geography which is studied today, the "out-of-town" Retail Park is a suitable example. Being born out of the 1980s and 90s tradition of expanding the ever growing retail industry in the UK, retail parks provided the population with an array of shopping facilities, restaurants and bars on the peripheral outskirts of their home town or city. This is a suitable example for investigating such a link between both planning and geography as it fully combines what both have studied within the core of their subjects. The example of the "out-of-town" retail site portrays the changing natures of cultural geographies of places and spaces, economic geographies of profit motives and purchasing patterns, the new wave of planning developments as well as providing significant links to theories of globalisation and capitalism.

Today, planning is subject to discretion, negotiation and a whole array of legislation limiting the true amounts of difference which can be made. Planning ideals of a utopian world catering for the society in which it inhabits is now a distant, almost nostalgic past. Now the profession is shifting towards a more administrative and satisficing role aimed at limiting the number of conflicts around a development. The profession is now also susceptible to the direct rule from more hegemonic and more demanding multinational corporations, politicians and parliamentary groups. Multinationals and the like continue to use harsh methods to intervene in the development of a plan, with negotiations taking far less time for larger, more influential developments where typically, the recognisable 'global' brand takes advantage of its dominance. These groups can also hire highly qualified and expensive legal aid, allowing loopholes within development plans and policies to be brought to the fore, exploited in an argument for their gain.

In the case of the Retail Park, the products and activities held in each store are ordered and bordered by the dynamic forces of capitalism, becoming so successful at injecting culture with its values that it is now increasingly difficult to distinguish where the original culture ends and the capitalist commodity begins (Anderson. J. 2009. P 49). Anderson (2010) argues that a product bought and sold under this multifaceted phenomenon not only has an economic price but also a significant set of cultural values, bringing cultural life to an economic 'forum' (Anderson. J. 2009. P 49). This process of associating cultural values along with a product is known as "commodification": injecting into one product or activity already imbued with culture, a dose of capitalist values (Anderson. J. 2009. P 49).

Brands held in these retail sites are now templates for identities and lifestyles to follow: they are examples of contributors to the ways in which we live our lives. Merely looking at an icon, symbol, and logo can define the lifestyle the consumer follows. In essence, these brands have not only homogenised towns and cities around the world but have in some cases homogenised people. Brands continually try to associate themselves with a particular image, endorsing others to follow.

Capitalism in the form of the high street retailer, once a proud figurehead for the bustling local economy, has become a prime example of a 'fair weather friend'. Coupled with the economic downturn, the changing patterns of consumption, and the profit seeking motive of the company's hierarchy, these brands have shifted outwards to larger floor spaces, larger car parks and to the arterial roads. The consequences of such a movement is currently being felt by the majority of the UK's towns and villages, with non-governmental organisations such as the New Economics Foundation endorsed to investigate the rise of 'clone' and 'ghost' towns.

Shopping malls and out-of-town retail sites are now examples of these cultural 'forums', where the urban shopping landscape allows the individuals within our society to visit, purchase and integrate their own identities and lifestyles (Featherstone. M. 1996. P105-106). Like-minded people are visiting these centres to purchase like-minded identities. Now, every consumer can relate to a certain brand, to a certain image and to a certain trend, showing that shopping has also shifted public spaces to commercial spaces, with the modern planning movement and inter-disciplinary nature of human geography facilitating this change. The urban shopping centre creates a fantasy world in which desires and identities are sculpted, leaving brands to capitalise on this fantasy world through the process of globalization and neo-liberalism, whilst repeating this process throughout the UK and elsewhere.

Llanelli is a suitable case study for the implications of the out-of-town retail site, as it has seen an overhaul in its local landscape. This particular town was famed for its industrial past, along with its contributions to the growth of the British Empire. Llanelli, often referred to as "Tinopolis", held a large number of tin, copper, iron and steel works, being heralded for its production of thousands of tons of primary and secondary industry materials. Any mention of Welsh rugby also shifted minds to Llanelli and to Stradey Park. This rugby field was an iconic playing ground recognised all over the world. This once awe inspiring ground which gathered rugby patrons, veterans and the younger population together to watch a game has since disappeared. Stradey Park once drew thousands of visitors a year, allowing the town centre to have significant footfall, higher numbers of sales and thus higher levels of profitability. Now, the stadium has shifted outwards to the Retail Park. The consequences are such that the centre has seen a deterioration in culture, whilst exacerbating the problems of vandalism, graffiti and anti-social behaviour. In similar vein to the high street retailers which had previously moved to the "out of town" retail site, the stadium's move has encouraged the growth of an almost separate 'centre' to the actual town. The implications witnessed by Llanelli town centre have been mirrored all over the UK, with a number of towns being classified by the New Economics Foundation as clone or ghost towns.

A development such as those seen in the recent decades has placed an increasing recognition on the true value of the link between human geography and planning, and indeed on their combined use of culture. A general sensitivity to the enhancement and renovation of old cultural facades is now considered to carry a number of benefits to any city or town (Featherstone. M. 1996. P105-106). In recent years there has been a growing recognition of the value of culture industries and the importance of the qualitative means behind cultural geographies of places and spaces (Featherstone. M. 1996. P105-106). The local economies of towns and cities can take full advantage of the many direct and indirect ways in which the presence of cultural institutions and cultural facades can carry benefits (Featherstone. M. 1996. P105-106). The awareness that culture industries can play a growing role in national and local economies has grown alongside the general expansion in the production and consumption of symbolic goods in contemporary western societies, following that of the concept of cultural capital, developed by Pierre Bourdieu (1984, 87) (Featherstone. M. 1996. P105-106). The concept points out the ways in which, parallel to economic capital which is immediately calculable, exchangeable and realizable, there also exists modes of power and processes of accumulation based upon culture (Featherstone. M. 1996. P105-106). The fact that culture can be capital is often hidden and misrecognised (Featherstone. M. 1996. P105-106).

Global brands have used their power and their aim for profitability to get their demands, with the number of multinational stores outweighing the number of independents in the UK. This persistent production of culture and attribution of value are central to the themes of human geography and modern day planning, being an essential bulwark against the cultural imperialism of the political and economic centre, providing the fundamental means for keeping the communities alive and fruitful (Featherstone. M. 1996. P105-106).

What can be stated here is that the disciplines of geography and planning, although contested about their similarities and differences, have been able to adapt over time to debates which are widely apparent in the external source of the society. These effective external sources have enabled the two to evolve gradually, shifting their main emphasis from the study of exploration to human emotion. Internal debates such as the ones brought forward by new innovative thinkers have further enhanced this shift and, as a consequence, the two disciplines have become inter-disciplinary in nature. Many universities now offer combined courses in both human geography and planning.

What can be concurred is that post-modernism and geography remains an important theme for planning (Campbell. S and Fainstein. S S. 2003. P10). Its enduring power has been to provide the idea that we are shifting into a futuristic world, creating a historical break with the past (Campbell. S and Fainstein. S S. 2003. P10). Planning is now trying to distance itself from the more unsavoury aspects of the 20th century (Campbell. S and Fainstein. S S. 2003. P10). Urban renewal, rational comprehensiveness, utopianism, high rise public housing and the rejection of rich historical forms of reference, are now deemed to be by-products of modernism.

What planning theory and practice has seemed to realise through its development of comprehensive analytical literature, along with its embrace of sceptical writers, is that the discipline has been severely influenced by human geography. Today, plans are more likely to question whether supermarkets and retail parks are actually good for a certain society, rather than allowing the development to pass purely on yields, footfall and trade diversion (Allmendinger. P. 2002. P103). The combination of geography and planning, encourages a different way of examining and assessing development proposals from those which had been typically made largely by design. There is a need for a new kind of planner shaped by economic geography and the social sciences (Allmendinger. P. 2002. P103). Given that we are now entering a new period of globalization, post-fordism and the new economy, it would seem that these engagements with the broader ideas of post-modernism will be seen again in planning and geography, binding the two closer together (Campbell. S and Fainstein. S S. 2003. P10).

Bibliography -

Anderson. J. 2009. 'Understanding Cultural Geography'. Published by Routledge London.

Allmendinger. P. 2002. 'Planning Theory.' Published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Campbell. S, Fainstein. S S. 2003. 'Readings in Planning Theory.' Published by Blackwell Publishers.

Featherstone. M. 1996. 'Consumer Culture and Postmodernism'. Published by Sage Publications.

Flowerdew. R, Martin. D. 1997. 'Methods in Human Geography a Guide for Students doing a Research Project.' Prentice Hall, Pearson Education.

Holloway. S, Rice. S P, Valentine. G. 2003. 'Key Concepts in geography'. Sage Publications.

Johnston. R J. 1993. 'A Changing World: A Changing Discipline,' Blackwell Publishers.

Johnston. R J, Sidaway. J D. 1979. 'Geography and Geographers'. Arnold Publications.

Taylor. N. 1998. 'Urban Planning Theory since 1945.' Sage Publications.