Structural models in the planning of urban regions: The paradox of strategic planning

Raine Mäntysalo, Jonna Kangasoja, Vesa Kanninen

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


In recent times, the need for a strategic approach to land-use planning has come to the forefront and sparked in-creasing interest among researchers in the field. This report engages in the pertaining theoretical discourse, using the characterisations of strategic planning proposed by Albrechts and Balducci as a starting point. The features of strategic planning defined by Albrecht and Balducci, such as visionary selectiveness, action orientation, management of uncertainty, and relationality, present themselves as opposites to statutory regulative planning, which, in turn, is characterised by comprehensiveness, plan orientation, adherence to the illusion of certainty, and essentialism.
However, various researchers have pointed out that it is not possible to make a straightforward transition from tra-ditional statutory planning to strategic planning – it is necessary to first utilise the toolset of the former approach. Statutory planning is inevitably linked to the judicial and administrative organisation of the relations of land owner-ship, the regulation of the financial risks of real estate investments, and the legitimate implementation of the exer-cise of public authority. These dimensions must also be taken into account in strategic planning, even though they signify operations that do not seem to mesh well with the strategic thinking represented by Albrechts and Balducci.
This report proposes that, instead of seeking the essence of strategic planning in the features that present them-selves as opposites to the traditional statutory regulative planning and the dimensions of statutory planning connected to it, the search should be focused on managing the dialectic between the two approaches. What this means is that, paradoxically, the nature of strategic planning also involves the utilisation of “non-strategic” planning instruments. The management of this paradoxical element requires special proficiency in strategic planning. Healey’s concept of the skill of critical judgement is linked to this view. A strategic planner requires this skill in order to see how much and by what means purchase for strategic initiatives, as well as the desire for change, can be found among actors in the field. To increase understanding regarding these skills, a dialogue between theoretic examina-tion and practical experiences is required.
The report engages in a discussion with a few experienced strategic planning professionals. The focus of the scru-tiny is, specifically, on the experiences of the interviewees with regard to the use of informal structural models. To provide background for this, structural models prepared in various urban regions, as well as the development of structural model work in Finland, are examined.
The study concludes with the observation that strategic planning does not belong to any particular level of plan hi-erarchy. Instead, it is about the strategic utilisation of the plan hierarchy itself. Informal structural models should be linked to the creation of plans at a variety of levels in order to enrich their handling processes with strategic views and perspectives. The conclusion highlights the significance of the capability for strategic creativity and judgment in all spatial planning and related interaction. Through this ability, planning instruments can be used strategically, irrespective of whether they are, by nature, better or worse at expressing the ‘identifying features’ of the strategic approach.
Translated title of the contributionStructural models in the planning of urban regions: The paradox of strategic planning
Original languageFinnish
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Number of pages57
ISBN (Electronic)978-952-11-4320-5
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeD4 Published development or research report or study

Publication series

NameYmpäristöministeriön raportteja
ISSN (Electronic)1796-170X


  • statutory planning
  • strategic spatial planning
  • scenario planning


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