What Language Does a “Plangineer” Speaks? Cross-Disciplinary Expertise and Environmental Governance in Canadian Cities

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:45
Oral Presentation
Julie HAGAN, Laval University, Canada
Cities have become key players in environmental governance. As such, they mobilize a broad range of experts producing an exponential amount of policies documents, environmental strategies and action plans. What type of expertise is favored when drafting urban environmental policies and planning strategies? How do radically different types of expertise work towards common goals? Who defines what should be on the policy agenda? To explore these issues, we conducted in-depth interviews with decision-makers (e.g. civil servants, engineers, planners, biologists, climate scientists, elected officials, and NGO representatives) involved in environmental governance in 6 Canadian cities (e.g. Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City). Using the NVivo software, we performed a discourse analysis of interview transcripts and policies documents (Sustainability Strategies, Climate Action Plans, etc.) produced by each city. Our findings indicate two trends with regards to the role of expertise in environmental governance at the city-level. First, there is an increased acknowledgment of the need to work collaboratively across disciplinary fields and to break down the silos within environmental urban governance structures. A trend dubbed “plangineering” by some to underline the intertwinement of planning and engineering practices. Second, measurable goals, quantifiable data, and mathematical models have, in many cases, replaced the concepts of sustainability as a common ground upon which to build a common understanding of urban environmental challenges. This trend is concomitant with the integration of climate concerns within the urban governance agenda and climate science within the governance structures of many cities. New public management practices (e.g. performance indicators, benchmarking), as well as international emulation of environmental governance amongst global cities, also play a role. And while we can recognize the emergence of hybrid experts such as “plangineers”, there is a need to question the language such experts speak and, more importantly, in whose name do they speak?