New decade – new roles in planning (?)

This decade starts after much turbulence towards the end of the last one. Which roles should planners develop and take in a world of change, populism, ecological crisis, social polarization and a feeling of uncertainty? In my view, there are clear signs of hope: much protests and conflicts circle around our responsibility and the need to change our goals, our thoughts, our actions – and thereby our roles – as planners. The challenge is not to adjust some instruments or to find better ways of communication. The necessities go deeper, are more demanding and harder to imagine.

My own work has developed around the theme of roles in planning. From using roles to describe statutory planning processes working through uncertainty in my PhD in 2016 to analyzing leadership roles in local land-use planning and changing roles of planners in transformation in 2019 (see publications). This coincides with growing discussions on prospects beyond growth in planning (post-growth planning, see also To add, there is another concern that can connect or destroy our joint efforts: the digital transformation of society, economy and planning. Some of this was seen as counter-force to growth-oriented strategies, but the sharing economy and large tech giants have developed in diverse directions. In the same vein as the traditional economy, digital is not better or worse. Planners are yet puzzled how to best deal with platforms for short-term rental services, e-scooters, ride sharing and alike as well as how to integrate augmented and virtual realities and digital social media channels of communication into their daily work.

This means planners are even more in need of strong roles to explore, to navigate and to lead the transformation in a digital world that loosens or loses its orientation towards growth. How do we (as planners) navigate and lead this transformation? How do we develop our roles as explorer, motivator and inspirator for collective action? The new decade starts with a strong ‘turn to action’ in planning discourse and needs much effort to update planning to today’s needs and to ensure that we all use our tools to collectively design spaces we desire.

A new decade – what opportunity could be better for a fresh re-start of thoughts and actions? My best wishes to everyone who reads this for a decade that can (and hopefully will) entail the change we all make together.

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