Monthly Archives: February 2014

On the importance of writing for Urbanists

The Hague Town Hall, photo by Roberto Rocco (2013).

The text below illustrates  why writing is an essencial skill for urbanists. The point is that politicians and decision-makers must be correctly briefed by officials so that they can take the correct decisions concerning urban management. Urbanists are at the forefront of public policy. They must be able to brief decision-makers efficiently. This is even more important as devolution increases and local administrations must assume tasks previously assigned to other levels of government. Local councils are under enormous pressure to perform. Decision-makers need to get information quickly, but this information needs to be communicated clearly and concisely. Information must come from authoritative sources. If information is being produced by you, then you should be able to base it on sound research and evidence gathering. Although maps and designs will facilitate decision-making, the quality of written reports and briefs is essential. At TU Delft, we put a great deal of emphasis on written reports and essays, where you can spell-out your ideas and explain yor strategies in detail.

Binnenlandsbestuur.nl. Authors: Hans Bekkers Yolanda de Koster. Published on 27 feb 2014

Click HERE for the original text.

Translated by Egbert Stolk

Minister Plasterk: ‘Municipal councillors should write comprehensible proposals’

Minister Plasterk of the [Dutch] Interior and Kingdom Relations (PvdA) believes that the criticism on the quality of municipal councilors is not justified. The official preparation of municipal Council proposals must be improved so that the proposals from the Board of Mayor and Aldermen are ‘clear and understandable ‘ for everyone.

Lack of knowledge

According to many, municipal councilors lack the skills to fulfill their task in formulating and monitoring policies in a responsible way. With the many tasks that the municipalities are faced with in the next administrative term due to decentralization, including the doubling of the municipal budget, some even predict major financial disasters due to the lack of knowledge and skills of the average municipal councilor. Plasterk disagrees: “I do not share this criticism on councilors; it fits into the general disdain people often hold about politics” said the PvdA-Minister.

Unjustified and undeserved

This disdain for the councilors, according to him is unjust and undeserved. “The people are very motivated, smart and ambitious. In addition, they need to do their job in a glass house. There should be more appreciation and respect for councilors”, he said in an interview in the magazine Binnenlands Bestuur.

Spotlight

According to Plasterk, the spotlights are pointed in the wrong direction. They should also be focused on other actors within the local administration. Aldermen must ensure issues are properly prepared. “The pieces submitted to councilors must be clear. At a glance, it should be clear what the choices are and what the consequences are. You do not have to be a professional accountant to perform well as a councilor” states Plasterk.

No picture puzzle

“It should not be a picture puzzle for councilors, [rather] the issue at hand should immediately be clear”. The quality of local governance is not only related to city councilors, according to the minister. It’s about teamwork and cooperation within the local government; hence [it is also a responsibility for] officials and clerks.

Challenge

In short, councilors should be well informed and [their decisions should be] facilitated. He says it’s not that councilors have to correct or windward the municipal officials, but the head of the municipality should simply be able to do his or her job properly. Aldermen and officials have to help busy councilors to make good decisions. “There ‘s a challenge”, says Plasterk.

Critical stance

Plasterk wants to personally make a contribution to achieve a better appreciation of councilors. “As Minister, I see it as my duty to be critical when people are talking in a misguided way about politicians, often called ‘profiteers’. That’s the biggest nonsense. Council members receive compensation. For those few hundred bucks a month they get for council work, they sacrifice a lot.”

Original text

Minister Plasterk van Binnenlandse Zaken (PvdA) vindt de kritiek op de kwaliteit van raadsleden onterecht. De ambtelijke voorbereiding van raadsvoorstellen moet beter, zodat de stukken van het college van burgemeester en wethouders voor iedereen ‘helder en begrijpelijk’ zijn.

Gebrekkige kennis

Raadsleden beschikken volgens velen over onvoldoende kwaliteiten om hun kaderstellende en controlerende taak verantwoord te kunnen vervullen. Met de vele taken die de gemeenten de komende college­periode door de decentralisaties extra op hun bordje krijgen – inclusief de verdubbeling van het gemeentebudget – voorspellen sommige zelfs grote financiële rampen als gevolg van de gebrekkige kennis en kunde van het gemiddelde raadslid. Zo niet Ronald Plasterk. ‘De kritiek op raadsleden, die deel ik niet en die herken ik niet. Het past in het dedain waarmee in het algemeen vaak over de politiek wordt gesproken’, aldus de PvdA-bewindsman.

Onterecht en onverdiend

Dat dedain voor de gemeenteraadsleden is volgens hem onterecht en onverdiend. ‘De mensen zijn zeer gemotiveerd, slim en ambitieus. Daar komt bij dat ze hun werk in een glazen huis moeten doen. Er zou meer waardering en respect voor raadsleden moeten zijn’, zegt hij in een interview in het magazine Binnenlands Bestuur.


Schijnwerpers

In zijn ogen staan de schijnwerpers gewoon verkeerd. Die moeten ook op andere actoren binnen het lokale bestuur gericht zijn. Zo moeten wethouders ervoor zorgen dat de zaken goed worden voorbereid. ‘De stukken die raadsleden krijgen voorgelegd moeten helder zijn. In een oogopslag moet duidelijk zijn waar de keuzes liggen en wat daarvan de gevolgen zijn. Je hoeft geen beroepsaccountant te zijn om als raadslid je werk te kunnen doen’, stelt Plasterk.


Geen zoekplaatje

‘Het moet voor raadsleden geen zoekplaatje worden; het moet meteen helder zijn wat wordt besloten.’ De kwaliteit van het lokaal bestuur is niet alleen iets van de gemeenteraad, wil de minister maar zeggen. Het gaat om het samenspel en de samenwerking binnen het totale lokale bestuur; dus ook college, ambtenaren en griffier.


Uitdaging

Kortom, raadsleden moeten goed worden geïnformeerd en gefaciliteerd. Het is volgens hem niet zo dat raadsleden ambtenaren moeten corrigeren of de loef moeten gaan afsteken, maar de baas van de gemeente moet simpelweg zijn werk goed kunnen doen. Dagelijkse bestuurders en de ambtenaren moeten de drukbezette raadsleden helpen goede besluiten te nemen. ‘Daar ligt een uitdaging,’ zegt Plasterk.


Tegenspraak bieden

Persoonlijk wil Plasterk ook een steentje bijdragen om in de publieke opinie een betere waardering voor raadsleden te bewerkstelligen. ‘Als minister zie ik het als mijn taak tegenspraak te bieden als er op een misplaatste manier over politici wordt gesproken. Vaak wordt geroepen dat het ‘zakkenvullers’ zijn. Dat is de grootste onzin. Raadsleden krijgen een vergoeding. Voor die paar honderd euro per maand die ze voor het raadswerk krijgen, offeren ze veel op.’

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Points of reflection for ethics in Urbanism

This is a list of issues in Urbanism where ethical judgment plays a crucial role. We have elaborated this list with TU Delft students of Urbanism in mind. These are points students have asked us about, or points we’ve noticed students struggling with. This list does not tell you what to do. It invites you to reflect on issues where ethical judgment is necessary.

The TU Delft puts the highest importance on issues of ethics. And in fact, in order to form “good urbanists”, we need to provide them with knowledge and skills, but we also need to discuss ethical values. In fact, we recognize the importance of forming critical minds, which will be able to solve complex problems in the real world: minds that are able to investigate issues concerning the built environment and society, reflect upon them, communicate results clearly and articulate solutions among different stakeholders. These are activities that involve moral judgments and accountability towards the public.

What’s the role of theory?

What’s the role of theory?

This presentation is about the role of theory and of a theoretical framework in urbanism studies. It contains the following claims:

1. Theory is necessary to inform and enlighten practice

2. Practice and theory work iteratively, with one feeding the other

3. The model of theoretical application in the human sciences and in urbanism is quite different from the one used in the physical sciences

4. A theoretical framework is a system of ideas that helps you structure your thoughts and your narrative

5. A theoretical framework suggests communities of practice where knowledge inhabits, that is, communities that study similar  issues, that adopts the similar logics of enquiry leading to similar questions, similar methodologies to answer those questions and consequently similar answers

6. One needs to look further than his/her own community of practice, because knowledge needs to be produced and communicated to a larger academic and non-academic audience (design needs to be validated beyond the design community, for example, because it has social and political relevance). Otherwise, one risks becoming “Humpty Dumpty” (see lecture below). This has to do with TRANS-DISCIPLINARITY and with the need to reach out to other (often non-expert) kinds of knowledge

7. Critical analysis entails ACTION, rather than  practice alone. Action has a much more active connotation, because it entails an  understanding of theory AND practice AND application in the real world. We must walk away from  a mechanistic understanding of the world, towards an active critical understanding of urban issues.

To what Urbanism community do you belong?

The course Ar2U090 assumes that Urbanism is a TRANS-DISCIPLINARY field of knowledge and action. There are several communities of practice within Urbanism, each with different logics of enquiry, different QUESTIONS and different methodologies.

The way different communities look at different questions determines their research questions and actions.

We asked students if they could locate themselves in a hypothetical triangle that represents these different communities (the Design community, the Human Sciences and the Physical sciences). This is only a rough approximation of the complexity of world views existing in Urbanism.

The diagram below shows the results of the exercise, after students attended two quarters of the Master programme in Urbanism.

Logic-of-enquiry-ALL-STUDENTS-2014-after-Q1-2

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