This article tells the story about the practice of spatial planning in Flanders (Belgium) between 1940 and 2012 on a regional (Flanders) and a local (City of Antwerp) scale related to the social context and the theoretical concepts behind. It wants to highlight the difference and the relation between institutional and strategic planning and the lessons learned analyzing the planning practice during this long period.
Spatial planning in Belgium was strongly influenced by the destruction during the two world wars and by the need for housing due to the growing population, as well as by the planning concepts that were introduced by the German occupiers. These concepts were based upon the importance of the main infrastructure network defining more and more the spatial structure. ‘Road infrastructure’ became a driving force behind all spatial plans that were made in the 1950s and 1960s. In response to this evolution a new law defined an hierarchical set of planning instruments mainly based upon land-use on different scales and the modernistic zoning technique. As a result land use plans were elaborated at the end of the 1970s for the whole of the country (1/25000).
The case of Antwerp is used as an example of what was happening in reality on a local scale and illustrates the long quest towards a more strategic planning. In the article the author attempts to define the roots of strategic planning in Flanders and the way it is also legally introduced as well as in the planning practice. The author argues that there is a difference between the institutional planning system mainly oriented towards the creation of legal certainty and strategic planning aiming at change and innovation of space and place. He argues that change and innovation only can happen in a favorable context and are often initiated by social movements that create/or use a specific momentum.
The lessons learned are related with the importance of the social global and local planning and social context, the need for professionalism, the influence of the civil society and social/spatial movements, the need for a direct relation between visioning and action and finally the social-political-spatial dynamic nature of planning processes. The article claims that planners are not facilitators but active actors with specific values and skills.