In the 1600s Christopher Wren finished off The Guildhall at Windsor after the death of its designer Sir Thomas Fitz. But there was a problem. After a heated debate between Wren and the council, the council insisted that something must be done. The ceiling of the chamber was sure to collapse unless columns were inserted to support it. So Wren designed columns for the room that were intentionally short of the ceiling. They remain, not supporting anything, to this day.
Touché Mr Wren.
Wren knew the ceiling didn’t need supporting – he was an expert.
Experts know what they’re doing and we should listen to them.
This is the message that the Planning Officers Society is trying to get across through their recent NOVUS publication.
Aside from sounding like Batman (“We should not fear being unpopular, we will stand up for the common good”), they raise the point that planners know what they’re doing because they are experts: ‘Let Planners Plan’. They’ve trained for years to be able make those important decisions, so they should be given the trust to make them.
The report also encourages early involvement of the public in placemaking. The public “are the experts on the here and now of their neighbourhood”. The report argues the public should be given more of a say. But this requires more work, earlier in the process and an expert agency to advise on the best approach.
We put our trust in experts to make the right decisions for us on a daily basis; “take two of these twice a day until it clears up”; “this building needs to be made of bricks, not straw”; “mango works better with gin than lime”.
But humans don’t like to relinquish control. We are doomed to forever mistrust a SAT NAV that assures us an unfamiliar country road is the best route to take. We think we can do it on our own and end up taking the long way round as a result.
But if you listen to that expert voice, advising you of the best route to take, you’ll have a shorter journey, and you may even avoid filling a hall with short columns.