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How do we discuss the ideas behind agile in urban planning?

Updated: Aug 19, 2022

#AgilePlanningAndLearning #AgileWorking

"What if our language does not simply mirror or picture the world but instead profoundly shapes our view of it in the first place?"

- Fischer & Forester, 1993, p.1

The above quotation in the context of planning makes us think: how important is language and what role does it have in constructing reality? Can it be used as a tool to change it?

In prior posts, I have mentioned how the ideas behind an agile way of working resonate more with practitioners than the word 'agile'. I have recently questioned using the term because of misunderstandings and negative perceptions. In my most recent posts, I have started to change my description to phrases such as a "people-centered" or "human-centered" way of working, attempting to shift the focus to the concepts themselves: learning, iteration, experimentation, etc.

The ideas behind an agile way of working are powerful. How do we talk about them in a way that is accessible, understandable, and directly communicates what we are intending?

This is an open question for discussion.

The word 'agile' may have too much baggage to the point that some people see it as something that isn't agile at all. To the point where it becomes very distracting from its actual ideas and utility. To the point that we forget that its goal is to connect people, keep information flowing, and allow learning and growth. It should be a tool for planning to work in line with its purpose, which as one practitioner with 60 years of experience stated:

“The ultimate role of the planner is to help a community become a better place”

-Bolan, 2016, p. 285


With that in mind, how do we talk about this? Is there a common thread that can concisely communicate it? One of my ideas is that the common thread is people: thinking about people both in terms of the way of working and in terms of the community you're planning for. I think another one may be learning and iteration - we are learning about our communities, adjusting, and developing solutions to build the society we want to live in.

Or, are the ideas too diverse to be represented in one common thread, in something that can fit in a short phrase? Instead, should this way of working only be described as a collection of characteristics and practices?

What do you think?


Bolan, R. S. (2016). My 60 Years as a Planner. Journal of the American Planning Association, 82(3), 280–287.

Fischer, F., & Forester, J. (1993). The argumentative turn in public policy and planning. Durham: Duke UP.


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