Post-growth planning for post-corona times; Reinventing a growth-independent planning in times of crisis

Christian Lamker

The Corona crisis has focused our perspective to the importance of critical infrastructures and public services. In particular, the crisis reveals how interrelated processes are to provide even the most basic goods and services. The so-called ‘heroes of Corona’ (such as healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, cleaners and cashiers) whose work fulfils the needs of everyday life are collective points of attention. Water, food, mobility and local production are not a given but the work of many, often low-income, workers. Spatial aspects of our lives change rapidly at the same time. We could live everywhere and be evenly distributed in space if we live fully digital and #stayathome. Neighbours and close networks help us, but density of people becomes suspicious. Are dense cities a great achievement of the past and maybe the recent present (see authors like Edward Glaeser and Richard Florida), and now to be abandoned (again) because they raise fears of density and virus spread? What can and should we as planners do to provide and safeguard the spatial preconditions for encounter and social connections?

Society will never be completely online. Even in deep crisis, we see the importance of real-world creativity and cultural events as a coping mechanism and a sign of collective hope: singing from balconies, shopping for our neighbours and video calls with friends and relatives are signs of need for physical connections. On the other side, we must ask: who is excluded? Who are the ones that we do not see now? Our special concern must be for homeless people, some single-person households, functional or full illiterate people, children and elderly people (see also this blog)

Until recently, digital transformation of society and economy related to even more spatial movement at all scales and the emergence of many ‘third spaces’ like cafés for living and working. Now that this suddenly stops, distortions and new exclusions open that need attention. Traditional families are back as main social reference points and we do not have much to say about diverse models of living in times of Corona crisis. Post-growth planning needs to include the whole diversity of our society into planning processes and planning after Corona must engage constructively especially with those who are out of sight.

Together with Viola Schulze Dieckhoff (TU Dortmund University & die urbanisten e.V.) I have developed six propositions as the cornerstones of post-growth planning in a discussion paper. We open up two possible scenarios for further discussion:

1.            A Corona bubble of (happy) isolation with a lack of spatial conflicts, a lack of surprises and confrontation with challenging world views even after a lack of finance and jobs in the Corona lockdown. We want to wait and then return to the normal as it was before. However, the longer lockdown lasts, the more unlikely this option is. The threat is that we lack a clear vision as much has already changed and simply bouncing back is not an option to choose. Getting back to before is already impossible.

2.            We return as an open society that emphasizes, solidary, connectedness, empathy and a lifestyle based on principles of sufficiency. We have managed to include disadvantaged groups during the crisis and have engaged with basic needs and desires. We have used the time to debate ways to develop and use spaces afterwards. Thoughts open on the change of consumption and production patterns and on mobility options. This opportunity scenario can use visioning and collective backcasting to develop measures of socio-ecological transformation and allow to plan for a smart recovery.

In the paper, important questions for spatial planning are raised: How can we, as planners, support keeping or even strengthening social contacts without spatial contacts? How can we assist a democratic debate about spatial futures and a new meaning of the spatial for the social (local, regional and global)? Post-growth planning means collective exploration, inspiration and leading towards new visions and goals. In words based on Star Trek: To boldly plan what no planner has planned before.  

Post-growth planning needs to include the whole diversity of our society into planning processes and planning after Corona must engage constructively especially with those who are out of sight.

For more information: contact c.w.lamker@rug.nl, my personal blog, and Twitter/Instagram: @raumplaner


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