MIT e-Planning Seminar

Bernard Marchand

Professeur Honoraire, Institut Français d'Urbanisme, U. Paris

"E-Planning and citizen participation : limits, illusions and potential"

Friday, November 14, 2003

MIT Rm. 3-401, 12:15PM - 2:00PM

Suggested Discussants: Bish Sanyal, Langley Keys

E-Planning and citizen participation : limits, illusions and potential

(Please do not quote, this is a draft)

E-planning, i.e the introduction of electronic methods in planning, the conditions for their use and their effects, is becoming an important issue : the ICPPIT gives a good overview of the domain. According to the some 75 contributions to the conference, E-planning seems to be developping in three principal directions: dialog between citizens and public administrations in order to apply and to obtain the multiple authorizations and permits modern men need to-day to live in society ; opening data bases, building and displaying maps on computer screens or on paper to inform citizens through the use of GIS ; allowing elected officials or administrative leaders to answer citizen queries through e-mail. These developments are just beginning and are supposed to have a bright future.

I would like, in this communication, to play the devilŐs advocate, to show exaggerated scepticism going beyond such satisfied enthusiasm, and to question some actual e-planning uses and effects.

I would like, in the seminar, to use three different approaches :

1)- Information flows :

Public participation requires important information flows : downward, to inform citizens about conditions, assets and liabilities of a particular project and upward to let them express their opinions and address people in charge. Such simplified view assumes planning organisations are simple hierarchies where power and data move easily up and down. This is not, however, how public organizations, at least in France, are structured. A good basis for such discussion can be found in the Theory of Organizations devised by sociologists since thirty years . E-planning poses the difficult question of power : how does it interfere with a power structure like a municipality ? How does it modifies it or destroys it ? What resistances will it provoke ? Will it increase citizensŐ power and in which ways ?

We will use examples taken in France from Crozier, which show the complexity of organizations and the difficulty to let information flow and decision be taken. Other examples will be taken from italian ŇDistretti industrialiÓ, a very successful type of local development where the introduction of e-methods pose difficult questions.

2)- The role of different scales and embedded structures :

By its very nature, planning deals with different geographical levels (the street, the neighborhood, the city, the region,..), at different time levels (short-, middle- or long time planning), at different social levels, etc.. This is the source of extremely intricated problems which complicate the flows of informations and the process of decision taking. For a given project, answers are not the same according to the level we consider : this is probably one of the chief difficulties in a plannerŐs work. Liberal society tends to consider that summing up the best individual solutions will produce the best global one. We know this is not true. A change in scale introduces a qualitative jump.

Since e-planning is based on circulation of information and participation between all levels, the problem is crucial. How can electronic communication foster citizen participation in an hierarchical and embedded organization ?

3)- Is actual software up to the task ?

Finally, we will try and show there is an important need for new computer solutions to e-planning success, going far beyond simple e-mail traffic or GIS mapping. The present state of developpement of computer sciences offers probably good solutions to such problems, like simulation, filtering software as well as the use of cellular automata. Unfortunately, new powerful solutions cannot rely only on the expertise of computer specialists. It depends probably more on the efforts of planners who should get much more involved in knowing computer sciences and in contributing to develop modern software.

Conclusion :

Advocating e-planning is very tempting but the difficult problems posed by such approach should be discussed carefully. Basically, citizen participation through e-planning represents a modern and, perhaps, efficient way to implement direct democracy. But cannot direct democracy be dangerously used and turn rapidly into its contrary ? Most dictators have taken power through legal means and used very efficiently direct communication with crowds . We come back to the opposition between Rousseau and Montesquieu : for Rousseau, since man is good but corrupted by society, he should abandon as little as possible of his independent judgement in a Social Contract and beware of representative government. Montesquieu, on the contrary, shows that there are two bases to democracy : free and individual vote on one hand, but also balance of power on the other. Rousseau advocates direct democracy like in swiss cantons, Montesquieu representative democracy like in Athens or Rome.

Would not direct participation of citizens through e-planning establish some form of direct government ? Would it be better ? Switzerland is wealthy and peaceful, but is it thanks to its direct democracy or to the useful reputation of secrecy of its big banks ?


Bernard Marchand


Agrégé de l'Université en Géographie (1958)

Docteur de IIIeme Cycle, Université de Paris (1966)

(Thè;se: Vénézuéla, Travailleurs et Villes du Petrole)

Docteur d'Etat, Université de Paris-I (1978) (PhD)

(Thè;se: La Croissance de Los Angeles, Cal: 1940-1970)

Professional Responsabilities :

1962-64 Professor, Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas.

1964-66 Assistant, Institut des Hautes Etudes de l'Amérique Latine, Paris.

1966-68 In charge of the Geographical Bureau, North-East Regional Development Commission, Cordiplan, Presidence of the Republic, Caracas.

1968-78 Maitre-Assistant à la Sorbonne

1978- Professor, Institute for Urban Planning, Université de Paris-VIII.

1990- Professeur Principal à l'Ecole Nationale des Travaux- Publics de l'Etat.

Teaching positions abroad as Visiting Professor at:

1962-64 Universidad Central de Venezuela, Caracas, 2 years.

1970-71 California State University at Los Angeles, Cal., 1 year.

1971-72 Pennsylvania State University, Pa., 1 year.

1973-74 Northwestern University, Illinois, 1 year.

1974-76 University of Toronto, Ontario, 2 years.

1981-82 Federal University of Rio-de-Janeiro, Brasil, 1 year.

1986 Instituto Politecnico di Milano, Italy, 3 months.

1987 Università degli Studi di Milano, 3 months..

1988 Silpakorn University, Bangkok, Tha•land, 3 months.

1990 Department of Geography, University of California at Los Angeles, 3 months.

1991 Technische UniversitŠt Berlin, Germany, 3 months.

1992 Instituto Universitario- di Architettura di Venezia, 1 month.

1993-94-95 Mimar Sinan University, Istamboul, 1 month.

1995 Technische UniversitŠt Berlin, Fellow of Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, Germany, 2 months.

Conferences abroad:

United States

Ohio State University,

University of California at Santa Barbara,

University of Minnesota,

University of Washington,...


University of Western Ontario,

University of British Columbia,

University of Victoria,

Université de Montreal,...


Universidad de San Paulo en Rio Claro.


Bangkok Metropolitan Agency, Dpt of Comprehensive Town Planning.

Ministry of Interior, Tha•land


University of Cambridge, UK,

London School of Economics, UK,

Polytechnical Institute, Athens, Greece,

UniversitŠt Karlsruhe, GFR,

University of Poznan, Poland,

University of Pisa, Italy

Land Polytechnische Institut, Zurich, Switzerland

University "La Sapienza", Roma, Italy.

University of Lodz, Poland.

Mimar Sinan Universitesi, Istamboul

Middle East Technical University, Ankara

Scientific collaborations with :

Institut National de la Recherche sur les Transports et la- Sécurité, Paris

Direction Générale des Télécommunications, Paris

Plan Construction, Ministè;re de l'Equipement, Paris

Plan Urbain, Ministè;re de l'Equipement, Paris

Past member of the Editorial Board, Geographical- Analysis

Past member of the Editorial Board, Espace et Société

Auditor for Plan Urbain, Ministè;re de l'Equipement, Paris.

Member of the Editorial Board, Revue internationale de Géomatique.

Member of the Commission on City Networks, DATAR, Paris.

Member of the Scientific Comitee, Center for Urban Affairs, University of Lodz, Poland.

Member of the Laboratoire Recherches Interdisciplinaires Ville Espace Société (RIVES), ENTP, UMR 5600, section 39 du Comité National du CNRS.

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