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How Planners Deal with Uncomfortable Knowledge: The Dubious Ethics of the American Planning Association

Bent Flyvbjerg

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Abstract: With a point of departure in the concept "uncomfortable knowledge," this article presents a case study of how the American Planning Association (APA) deals with such knowledge. APA was found to actively suppress publicity of malpractice concerns and bad planning in order to sustain a boosterish image of planning. In the process, APA appeared to disregard and violate APA's own Code of Ethics. APA justified its actions with a need to protect APA members' interests, seen as preventing planning and planners from being presented in public in a bad light. The current article argues that it is in members' interest to have malpractice critiqued and reduced, and that this best happens by exposing malpractice, not by denying or diverting attention from it as APA did in this case. Professions, organizations, and societies that stifle critique tend to degenerate and become socially and politically irrelevant "zombie institutions." The article asks whether such degeneration has set in for APA and planning. Finally, it is concluded that more debate about APA's ethics and actions is needed for improving planning practice. Nine key questions are presented to constructively stimulate such debate.

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Date: 2013-03
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