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Where’s Art in Planning?

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“Art is the Queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.”
-– Leonardo da Vinci

We are immersed in the “art” of our times — the fine art, music, literature, commercial design, symbolism, and patterns of human activity that define our communities. Art, in all its various forms, helps give our lives meaning and enjoyment.

Yet you will rarely find art referenced in a development code or zoning ordinance, and very few comprehensive plans will even mention it. In the rare occasions where public art is included in planning, it is often more of an afterthought.

Why Has Planning So Often Ignored Art?

I believe planners have ignored art for three principal reasons:

1. Consideration of art does not match our traditional approach to planning. Our basic tool is a map or site plan – an orthographic perspective of a place that is never experienced by anyone. Music, sounds, scents, movement, and other personal experiences cannot be depicted. We regulate noise, glare, and so on, but do not consider a broader spectrum of environmental experience that would include art.

Technical planning is often a collaboration of planners, urban designers, architects, engineers, and landscape architects, but seldom if ever includes artists. That need not be the case. I recently participated in a project in Rijswijk, Holland, where we used a Mondriaan painting as the inspiration for a community plan.

image from Mondriaan painting compared to concept plan for network of streets and canals in City of Rijswijk

Master planning for the City of Poznan in Poland highlighted the analogy to music to inspire its citizens in planning for their city. The cover of the plan document is not a traditional city view, but a sheet of music!

Regional planning for Tokyo included a series of haiku that were presented in meetings to engage the public.

End of excerpt

… article continues with: 2. Planners have often ignored art because it cannot easily be quantified; 3. Planners exclude art because it implies emotion and subjectivity; and concludes with section: Planning Should Embrace Art.


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