The Connection between Confidence and Sustainable Planning

Confidence involves trust, belief, and reliability. George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller, through the first chapter of their book Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why it Matters for Global Capitalism, have done a great job in explaining how confidence has been playing a major role in economies. However, the rebuilding-New-Orleans example that they gave is not particularly a great one. There is a saying goes “one hand cannot clap”. Therefore, what it really takes to rebuild New Orleans should not be by simple confidence, but more likely by herd mentality. The requirement of herd mentality is obvious in the field of planning and development as decisions are made by getting different groups to agree upon and advance toward a goal.

Yet problems frequently emerge when people have different preferred methods to achieve similar goals. For example, while both aim to protect the environment for future generations, conservationists and preservationists are confident in different courses of actions. On one hand, conservationists are confident that the best practice is to manage the human influence on nature. On the other hand, preservationists are confident that the best way to protect the pristine nature is to eliminate any and every human influence possible. Both have made their points. And how does the government react? It adopts both methods, creating flexibility as the appropriate method can be chosen according to the scale and quality of the subject area. Bringing two groups back into one herd.

Especially in the field of planning and development, where uncertainties always lie and decisions can lead to distant outcomes that may later yield negative effects, confidence is much needed. As Akerlof and Shiller remind us that confidence goes beyond rationalism, this is where the challenge in sustainable planning lies. While planners have to rationally construct their plans for sustainability based on past experience, they also have to get people to trust their plans. All in all, a successful planner should not only be sustaining the three E’s (Environment, economies, and equity), but also the confidence (or herd mentality) among all parties involved.


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