Story of the Month - November 2016

Story of the Month - November 2016


Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP)—56th Annual Conference, 3-6 November 2016, Portland, Oregon


By Mee Kam NG


I attended the 56th Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning last November for a very important reason: to celebrate my mentor, Professor John Friedmann's 90th birthday with his many other students from different parts of the world. To celebrate his fruitful and meaningful long life, we put together a book and organised a roundtable session surrounding five themes that John Friedmann has made significant contributions. In case you do not know John Friedmann, also called the Pope of Planning (but he is not a believer), his career has spanned more than half a century over which time his contribution has become a major thread of debate in planning and urban theory on topics ranging from regional development, the good society, planning pedagogy, radical action and more recently, Chinese urbanization. The roundtable used reflections and insights from the edited book Insurgencies and Revolutions (Rangan et al 2016), to discuss and debate the ongoing relevance of Friedmann's work for thinking about planning as a vocation today.



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Cover of the edited book "Insurgencies and Revolutions" 


The room was packed when we had the Roundtable discussion: "Insurgencies and Revolutions: Reflections on John Friedmann's contributions to planning as a vocation". Six of us raised questions to John and he responded. It was a very lively session. I was the first one to raise a question and each of us had only one minute. I could not remember the exact wordings I used but I think I asked him about human nature and how could we ensure the making of a more just and sustainable society even if we managed to transform existing skewed power relationships found in many parts of the earth. I have this very serious question in my head for a long time but for reasons that I could not fathom, the question led to a big round of laughter. Then John being John came out, looked at me and then the powerpoint background slide with the words "Planning as a Vocation" on it (see below) and said, "Mee Kam: do not take things so seriously. Let us take 'Planning as a Vacation'!"—another round of big laughs! Well—I have to confess that I did make a typo and typed "vocation" as "vacation" when I prepared the background slide if not because of the sharp eyes of the first editor of the book...


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Powerpoint background for the Roundtable


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Roundtable at ACSP (source: Mee Kam NG)


The discussion focused on challenges for contemporary planning research, practice and pedagogy that have also been key themes in Friedmann's work: the role of hope in planning theory; transactive planning and social learning to inform models of alternative development; urban planning and development in China; world cities; and the enduring but enigmatic notion of the good city. 


In his annual Christmas greetings, John recounted the event and said,

"When I started out on my career in planning, back in the late forties, I could not have imagined that it would conclude with such a Festschrift in 2016. It is indeed the greatest honor for me to see how ideas developed 'on the run,' so to speak, have somehow inspired you in the many different ways you have done, and now to 'play them back' to me in your essays, allowing me to see the full harvest of this life in planning."



I am forever grateful to John's teaching and footprint in my life, without which my knowledge generation enterprise might be very different. The trust in empowering the community and the belief that a goof life is "rather about the quality of human relationships" (Friedmann, 1998, p.20) continue to resonate in every single piece of my academic work! Thank you Professor John Friedmann!



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