Review of Faludi and van der Valk’s “Rule and Order”

Throgmorton, James A. 1996. “The Rhetoric of Rule and Order: A Good Story?” A Review of Faludi and Valk’s Rule and Order. Planning Theory 16 (Winter): 63-65.

This article reviews Andras Faludi and Arnold van der Valk’s 1994 book, Rule and Order: Dutch Planning Doctrine in the Twentieth Century. I found it to be an important and highly informative interpretation of Dutch planning history.  It persuasively demonstrated that the Dutch have devised a sophisticated and intelligent planning system.  It did not, however, persuade me that this sophisticated planning system had significantly improved the typical Dutch citizens’ quality of life.

As an American reader who is not intimately familiar with the planning in the Netherlands, I found Rule and Order to be quite enlightening.  Reading it, I learned about Dutch planning doctrine, spatial ordering, strategic planning, and the Dutch planners’ effort to manage growth through structure sketches, National Physical Planning Reports, Key Planning Decisions, and core concepts such as the Green Heart and the Randstad.

What is more, I found myself generally agreeing with much of what Faludi and van der Valk had to say about planning. Distinguishing between project plans that provide blueprints for action, and strategic plans that coordinate the actions of many actors, they suggested that strategic planning could best be understood as a social construct; that is, an outcome of discussions, negotiations, and conflict, wherein “planning is not an operation on society but of society” (p. 239).  They pointed to particular events and decisions that turned the future course of Dutch planning one way rather than another.  They argued that planning doctrine constitutes a normal discourse that becomes institutionalized in planning organizations and processes.  At the core of that doctrine, they found a summary metaphor: the Green Heart enclosed by the Randstad, and they observed that the discourse about doctrinal change differs from discourse within the existing doctrine.

Unfortunately Rule and Order also struck me as being a dry, complex and abstract book that was often difficult to follow. My sense was that the style of the book was quite consistent with the substance of Dutch strategic planning.  Consequently, I interpreted Rule and Order as a grand but flawed effort to tell a persuasive story about planning in the Netherlands.

At the core of my interpretation lay an irony embedded in Faludi and van der Valk’s book: they seemed to be aware of how important persuasive imagery, interpretation, meaning, vision, and the “packaging of ideas” are, and yet they seemed not to have brought passion and heart into the writing of their own book.  Whereas the core figure of Dutch planning doctrine is the Green Heart, the core figure of Rule and Order is planning doctrine.

Planning histories should be persuasive as well as informative.  Though quite informative, Rule and Order failed to persuade.

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