Planning theory derived from planning practices in Indonesia

The gap between planning theory and practice has been identified for years (Alexander 1997; Brooks 2002; Sanyal 2002). Planning practice and planning theory have two distinctive communities of interest (Brook 2002). None of planning practitioners who participated in the survey conducted by MIT found planning theory useful when they grappled with conflicting interests (Rodwin and Sanyal 2000). Friedmann (2003) asserted that most planners go through their education without a clear understanding of planning theory.

The language of planning theory is abstract, esoteric and highly technical for most planning practitioners (Brook 2002). Most ideas of planning theory have not engaged planning practitioners constructively and planning theorists communicated their ideas to others who share their interests (Brooks 2002). It’s clear that we should bridge the theory and practice gap. Bridging the theory and practice gap is important because planning theory is fundamental to the planning profession. Planning practitioners need to understand the epistemological underpinnings of their actions. There is no planning practice without a theory about how planning ought to be practiced (Friedmann 2003).

In a more recent article, Friedmann (2008) identified three major ways of how planning theory can contribute to the advancement of planning practices. First, philosophical way that evolves humanist philosophy for planning and traces its implications for planning practice. Second, adaptation way that helps adapt planning practices to the real constraints including scale, complexity and time. Third, translation way that translates knowledge and ideas from other fields into the domain of planning.

There are four types of planning theory based on the basis of their intent (see Alexander 2003; Brook 2002 and Friedmann 2003). First, theories about planning that focus on its role in a particular milieu, i.e. community, nation or society and are based on empirical study or experience of practice. Second, theories for planning that propose models or strategies for planning practitioners to consider or use. Third, theories in planning that focus on the subject or objects of the planning undertaking. This type of theory is used in planning practices and is specific to its several specializations, i.e. community development, land use, transportation, environmental planning, etc. Fourth, theories of planning that address what is common to all planning specializations and explicate characteristics of planning practice.

Theories of planning are said to be irrelevant to planning practice (Friedmann 2003; 2008). Furthermore, Alexander (2003) argued that diversity of practices in planning and different types of planners in different contexts complicate the relevance of theories of planning for planning practice. The gap between planning practice and planning theory occurs specifically between planning practice and theories of planning.

Most planning theories were developed and extended within the context of Western liberal democracies. What is the relevance or the applicability of those planning theories to planning practice in different contexts is one of the most interesting theoretical and practical conundrums in planning. What about the gap between planning theory and planning practice in Indonesia? There has not been any study to investigate the gap between planning theory and practice in Indonesia, but I can assure that there is gap between planning theory and practice in Indonesia. Planning theory is also taught to students in the planning schools in Indonesia but I’m not sure the relevance of planning theory for planning practitioners in Indonesia.

This post attempts to bridge the gap between planning theories and practice in Indonesia. Needless to say, this is a daunting task. This is just the beginning of a long journey of bridging planning theories and planning practice in Indonesia.

I identify at least four articles about planning theory derived from planning practice in Indonesia. Beard (2002) developed covert planning for social transformation that was drawn from a longitudinal study of informal settlements along the Code River, Yogyakarta. A case study of a local youth group that planned and maintained library in the informal settlements along the Code River was used to illustrate the concept of covert planning that was defined as a “covert, incipient and incremental form of planning” (Beard 2002).

Drawing on the same study of informal settlement along the Code River, Yogyakarta, Beard (2003) extended radical planning in restrictive political environments. She used three local-level planning cases including the development of a health care clinic, the pavement project and the library project by residents in the informal settlements along the Code River to explain how the foundation for radical planning evolved in authoritarian contexts.

Hudalah et al (2010) explored ideas about communicative planning and capacity building in collective action. They combined political opportunity structure and Kingdon’s policy window and developed an agency-centered approach to opportunity. The extended ideas about communicative planning and capacity building were applied to two debates on development planning projects in the periurban area of North Bandung Area, Indonesia.

Hudalah et al (2011) extended the potential of policy networking as capacity building. They explained how a planning policy network is constructed and how it can improve the governance that faces spatial, social and institutional fragmentations. The debate on the road development proposal in North Bandung Area, Indonesia was used to illustrate their extended policy network as capacity building.

In addition to the articles about planning theories derived from planning practices in Indonesia, I will present ideas from Bambang S. Priyohadi (BSP), an Indonesian planner who has more than 30 years of planning experiences in the Department of Public Works and in the Province of Yogyakarta. BSP theorized his planning experiences in a thread of discussion in the Referensi list-serve. BSP argued that planning is a model of communication. Planning and policy executor are on the same side and expected to serve community and the nature on the other side.

BSP characterized planning in four ways including planning is an endless communication, planning is selling ideas, planning is constructing hopes and planning is sharing believes.

Planning is an endless communication. BSP argued that planning is a process that will still continue even when the plan is completed. Planning has not started when “the planning law or ordinances has been passed” or “the plan has been completed”. Planning will only end when the civilization is over. The discrepancies between the planned and the real conditions will likely occur and they are unpredictable. Using the unconditional cash transfer program (BLT), the disaster donation in Bantul and the development of agricultural areas in Samas-Pandansimo, BSP indicated unpredictable outcomes that were not identified in the plans. In the case of BLT, the outcomes are the panders (calo) who get personal advantages from the cash transfer coupons. One of unpredictable outcomes of the disaster donation in Bantul is the increase of motorcycle sales. The unexpected outcome of the success of development in Samas-Pandansimo is the increase of prostitute from about 60 to more than 500 in 3 years.

Planning is selling ideas. The presentation techniques have been learned by the planning practitioners from planning schools, but the planning practitioners also need to sell their ideas effectively. Selling an idea is not always about the excellent presentation technique but more importantly also about the right attitude and thought. BSP identified several factors to be considered in selling ideas effectively including customer language, understanding of the customer needs, communication techniques, communication intensity, and message clarity.

Planning is constructing hopes. Planners often consider their plans as the best representation of the community’s expectations. In fact, the plans are mostly created within the context of different sense of priority and the background of the planners. Planners are expected to meet the expectations or the hopes of the community.

Planning is sharing beliefs. Building trust is the important prerequisite in the planning process that is often neglected by the planners. Using his experience when working with residents of Ngawen in Gunung Kidul Regency, BSP was able to develop an effective mutual relationship with them and produce the expected results through sharing a very strong belief with them.


  1. Alexander, E.R. (1997). A mile of a millimeter: measuring the planning theory-practice gap. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design 24(1): 3-6
  2. Alexander, E.R. (2003). Response to ‘Why do planning theory?’ Planning Theory 2(3): 179-182
  3. Beard, V.A. (2002). Covert planning for social transformation in Indonesia. Journal of Planning Education and Research 22(1): 15-25
  4. Beard, V.A. (2003). Learning radical planning: the power of collective action. Planning Theory 2(1): 13-35
  5. Brooks, M. (2002). Planning Theory for Practitioners. Chicago: APA Press.
  6. Friedmann, J. (2003). Why do planning theory? Planning Theory 2(1): 7-10
  7. Friedmann, J. (2008). The uses of planning theory: a bibliographic essay. Journal of Planning Education and Research 28: 247-257
  8. Hudalah, D., Winarso, H., and Woltjer, J. (2010). Planning by opportunity: an analysis of periurban environmental conflict in Indonesia. Environment and Planning A 42(9): 2254-2269
  9. Hudalah, D., Winarso, H., and Woltjer, J. (2011 forthcoming). Policy networking as capacity building: an analysis of regional road development conflict in Indonesia. Planning Theory
  10. Rodwin, L. and Sanyal, B. (eds.). (2000). The Profession of City Planning. Rutgers, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research
  11. Sanyal, B. (2002). Globalization, ethical compromise and planning theory. Planning Theory 1(2): 116-123


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