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Exploring adaptive planning approaches to environmental justice conflicts in the complex city: a case study in Ghent (Belgium)

Thomas Verbeek (UGent)
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Abstract
Despite of their close connection in the past, today the domains of urban planning and public health have grown apart. Health and environmental issues have become the responsibility of health and environmental departments, with specific professions and expertise in control, while planning departments remain mainly focused on geographical or architectural approaches of space and time. This disconnection, resembling the political structure with its specialized bureaucracies, hinders the inclusion of crosscutting issues like health in spatial planning and policy. At best, in most Western countries the concerns about public health enter the planning process in a final stage, through the more or less obligatory environmental impact assessment process, executed by specialized experts and coordinated by the environmental department. Moreover this environmental assessment process is based on a system of more or less generic environmental norms and regulations, with thresholds for an array of environmental risks. Despite of its unquestioned achievements in preventing serious environmental conflicts, this institutionalization of environmental health criteria in formal laws and regulations seems to have difficulties to deal with the growing awareness of environmental impacts and the increasing empowerment and engagement of citizens, leading to continuing distrust and conflict between citizens and the government. The paper aims to move beyond this lock-in and explores ideas for a more context dependent, adaptive and collaborative urban planning perspective regarding environmental health. The absence of a detailed policy framework to reconnect both disciplines leads to developing a matrix of planning management approaches, that builds on recent ideas of co-evolutionary and adaptive planning. Central to the matrix is the expansion of the current institutional management approaches to environmental health conflicts with additional approaches that capture the self-organizing capacity and expertise of grassroots initiatives. At the same time the combination of institutional versus actor-related approaches allows for adaptive planning solutions. Thereto a flexible attitude of the government is needed to look beyond the strict environmental regulations and rigid procedures. To verify how these academic and theoretical insights could be implemented to solve urban environmental health conflicts, a case study research trajectory is devised in the city of Ghent (Belgium). The methods to detect and analyze possible conflicts reflect recent approaches in environmental justice research. First, a GIS analysis is carried out to compare the distribution of environmental impacts (air pollution and noise) with the distribution of vulnerability (socio-economic characteristics) and responsibility (e.g. car ownership) indicators, allowing the detection of spatial inequalities. Second, these inequalities are examined thoroughly in case studies, where more detailed information about the context is assembled. In a third step bottom-up, subjective aspects, and the processes behind the inequalities are analyzed through a survey among residents. Consequently in a fourth part the situation is evaluated, and a redevelopment track can be devised making use of a combination of the four planning management approaches. Based on the provisional results of the ongoing case study the paper will formulate recommendations how the use of the matrix could practically support a more central place for health in urban planning.
Keywords
environmental health, co-evolution, urban complexity, environmental justice, adaptive planning

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Chicago
Verbeek, Thomas. 2015. “Exploring Adaptive Planning Approaches to Environmental Justice Conflicts in the Complex City: a Case Study in Ghent (Belgium).” In 55th Annual ACSP Conference : Justice and The City, Proceedings. Houston: ACSP.
APA
Verbeek, T. (2015). Exploring adaptive planning approaches to environmental justice conflicts in the complex city: a case study in Ghent (Belgium). 55th Annual ACSP Conference : Justice and The City, Proceedings. Presented at the 55th Annual ACSP Conference : Justice and The City, Houston: ACSP.
Vancouver
1.
Verbeek T. Exploring adaptive planning approaches to environmental justice conflicts in the complex city: a case study in Ghent (Belgium). 55th Annual ACSP Conference : Justice and The City, Proceedings. Houston: ACSP; 2015.
MLA
Verbeek, Thomas. “Exploring Adaptive Planning Approaches to Environmental Justice Conflicts in the Complex City: a Case Study in Ghent (Belgium).” 55th Annual ACSP Conference : Justice and The City, Proceedings. Houston: ACSP, 2015. Print.
@inproceedings{7000992,
  abstract     = {Despite of their close connection in the past, today the domains of urban planning and public health have grown apart. Health and environmental issues have become the responsibility of health and environmental departments, with specific professions and expertise in control, while planning departments remain mainly focused on geographical or architectural approaches of space and time. This disconnection, resembling the political structure with its specialized bureaucracies, hinders the inclusion of crosscutting issues like health in spatial planning and policy. At best, in most Western countries the concerns about public health enter the planning process in a final stage, through the more or less obligatory environmental impact assessment process, executed by specialized experts and coordinated by the environmental department. Moreover this environmental assessment process is based on a system of more or less generic environmental norms and regulations, with thresholds for an array of environmental risks. Despite of its unquestioned achievements in preventing serious environmental conflicts, this institutionalization of environmental health criteria in formal laws and regulations seems to have difficulties to deal with the growing awareness of environmental impacts and the increasing empowerment and engagement of citizens, leading to continuing distrust and conflict between citizens and the government.

The paper aims to move beyond this lock-in and explores ideas for a more context dependent, adaptive and collaborative urban planning perspective regarding environmental health. The absence of a detailed policy framework to reconnect both disciplines leads to developing a matrix of planning management approaches, that builds on recent ideas of co-evolutionary and adaptive planning. Central to the matrix is the expansion of the current institutional management approaches to environmental health conflicts with additional approaches that capture the self-organizing capacity and expertise of grassroots initiatives. At the same time the combination of institutional versus actor-related approaches allows for adaptive planning solutions. Thereto a flexible attitude of the government is needed to look beyond the strict environmental regulations and rigid procedures.

To verify how these academic and theoretical insights could be implemented to solve urban environmental health conflicts, a case study research trajectory is devised in the city of Ghent (Belgium). The methods to detect and analyze possible conflicts reflect recent approaches in environmental justice research. First, a GIS analysis is carried out to compare the distribution of environmental impacts (air pollution and noise) with the distribution of vulnerability (socio-economic characteristics) and responsibility (e.g. car ownership) indicators, allowing the detection of spatial inequalities. Second, these inequalities are examined thoroughly in case studies, where more detailed information about the context is assembled. In a third step bottom-up, subjective aspects, and the processes behind the inequalities are analyzed through a survey among residents. Consequently in a fourth part the situation is evaluated, and a redevelopment track can be devised making use of a combination of the four planning management approaches. Based on the provisional results of the ongoing case study the paper will formulate recommendations how the use of the matrix could practically support a more central place for health in urban planning.},
  author       = {Verbeek, Thomas},
  booktitle    = {55th Annual ACSP Conference : Justice and The City, Proceedings},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Houston},
  publisher    = {ACSP},
  title        = {Exploring adaptive planning approaches to environmental justice conflicts in the complex city: a case study in Ghent (Belgium)},
  url          = {http://www.acsp.org/sites/default/files/2015\%20Book\%20of\%20Accepted\%20Abstracts.pdf},
  year         = {2015},
}