Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Friday, September 3, 2010

Planning, Urban Design and Science

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It is very difficult to resolve urban issues without taking into account our perceptions and feelings. I think it is always the same thing, the confrontation between the social (soft) sciences and hard sciences, as we usually know Mathematics, Physics and so on. But now, interdiscipline is helping us, researchers, to combine both of them; let´s say they share blurry frontiers. Well, that´s the basis of my thesis on urban morphology. And I know there are supporters and detractors. At least Pierce´s theory includes the soft sciences into the hard ones.
I recommend today an article by Melissa Hege, called ¨The Search for Scientific Validation: when our feelings are just not good enough¨, published at, August 30th 2010. She begins with an interesting reflection, and I share her feelings: 
¨Planners are taught to be analytical thinkers who use quantitative data, but also qualitative research. Remember the Myers Briggs personality test? It assesses an individual’s personality based on four preferences: A focus on the outer world (extraversion) or inner world (introversion); basic information (sensing) or interpretation and meaning (intuition); making decision based on logic (thinking) or people and special circumstances (feeling); dealing with the outside world with clear decisions (judging) or staying open to new information and options (perceiving). As planners, we are constantly in conflict with these preferences as we straddle the world of technician and analyst. We use numerical data to understand transportation, economic and demographic trends. Our mapping software offers a precise tool to input this data and perform mathematical extrapolations. But somewhere in our decision capabilities, we need to shift from Thinkers to Feelers, and as planners, we do this quite well.¨
Then, she provides two examples and finally concludes:
¨I’ve always been frustrated that our science of planning and design is too soft and subjective. Evidence based research and long term comprehensive surveys give more credibility to our work by doing something which most professions have always done—justifying strategies by measuring success. By translating more nuanced aspects of planning and urban design into measurable outcomes planners can develop a body of scientific evidence for future planners to make better designs. But while I believe this technique will help our profession tremendously, it should not be a substitute for our ability as Feelers to understand human behavior and hone into the underlying community issues which cannot be calculated in an excel spreadsheet!¨
Read the full article:

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