Evaluating ethics in planning : a heuristic framework for a just city : a thesis presented for partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Resource and Environmental Planning at Massey University, Manawatū
Many urban planners are engaged with the idea that cities should be ‘Just’: that is, planning should facilitate good outcomes for the people who choose to live and work in cities, particularly the least advantaged. The concept of a just city is an evolving planning paradigm which focuses on the needs of the least advantaged. This thesis revisits existing ideas of what constitutes a just city and explores why planners should care about the effects of ethics on its realisation. It extends conceptual understandings of what constitutes a ‘just city’, through a focus on care ethics and kindness. Then, by developing and applying the Just City Plan Evaluation Approach (JCPEA), it presents a heuristic framework to surface embedded ethics invoked in planning policy.
Ethics in urban planning have not been systematically considered in practice for decades. This inattention can be partially attributed to the distancing of planners from their role as public interest advocates, the multiplicity of competing views about what ethics should or could inform planning policy, and the lack of a systematic, formal approach to evaluate them. Yet normative views of what constitutes right and wrong are central to theoretical debates about planning and are used to inform arguments for or against policy. For decades, ethics of justice have dominated these debates. However, increasing calls for virtue ethics to complement justice ethics present an opportunity for the planning profession to reimagine its role as advocates for the public interest.
The JCPEA is based on a theoretical understanding of: (a) theories of justice (b) care ethics, and (c) Fainstein’s concept of the just city and her three just city principles (equity, diversity, and democracy). It enables ethical arguments in planning discourse to be evaluated against four criteria – extent, focus, merit, and power, using both political discourse analysis and a Foucauldian-type discourse analysis. The application of this dual-method approach, to a suite of planning documents from Auckland, New Zealand, proved useful in identifying and evaluating ethics and power in planning. The current intention to replace the Resource Management Act 1991, provides an opportune time to begin a conversation about ethics in plans, to focus on particular ethics, to address the silences, ruptures, and subsequent power imbalances in planning discourse, and to take steps not just towards the realisation of just city ethics and principles in practice, but also to reflect on planning more broadly.
Drawing on and extending existing just city narratives, this thesis posits kindness, a practical response to the needs of others, as a principle to invoke in planning policy. This principle of kindness is grounded in an ethic of care, but also sits within an emerging post-secular and intersectional approach to address injustice. It is an ethic that was first signaled by New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern in a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2018, when she called for ‘kindness’ as a means of pursuing peace, prosperity, and fairness, and which subsequently became part of the New Zealand response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Invoking kindness represents a step-change in ethics informing government policy and was a signal to the world that there is another way of governing. It is also an ethic that lends itself to planning practice. This thesis argues that exposing and discussing the ethical basis of planning discourse using this heuristic framework provides the means to give agency to planners to act as non-neutral arbiters of the public interest, and as parrhesiastes focussing on the needs of the least advantaged.