Planning places, enabling the practitioner

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Brown, David D.
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Urban design is concerned with the social and physical aspects of the urban environment, and is argued to be a powerful agency for developing social well-being. The contemporary city, however, offers a challenging context for urban design. This thesis aims to develop new insights into urban design practice by investigating how the urban design practitioner, as a holder of valuable skills and knowledge, might be enabled to contribute within the contemporary practice context. The thesis offers perspectives on the present-day forces of urban change and the social effects from which participatory planning has emerged. The responding paradigm shift in planning theory is investigated, and identifies principles which guide urban design practice based on creating dialogic space, developing inclusive democratic processes, and validating multiple ways of knowing. The traditional role of the built environment professional within the social processes of producing the built environment is discussed, and the limitations of that role identified. The epistemological and ideological foundations of the built environment professions in the contemporary context are questioned. Empirical research into the topic, including a case study of urban design in the Winnipeg context, identifies a need to review contemporary professionalism cultures and to focus urban design activity on implementation. This thesis argues that urban design practice based on professionalism is not appropriate in the contemporary practice context of public participatory planning and design processes. The urban designer must come first as a citizen, and add value to that involvement by bringing knowledge and skills to the table. Finally, a range of principles intended to enable the urban design practitioner in the contemporary practice context are offered.