Affect Planning: Bringing Emotion into the Rational Plan

Last week I graduated with a grad degree in planning. I am not quite sure if I am a planner. But I did walk out of there with a plan.

Courtesy of

My plan was conceived out of a gap I saw in the field.  More exactly, planning is a field that plans for the city, or for “us”.  Yet historically that meant planning for “our body”, or our land and built capital—as well as planning for “our head”, or our intellectual and financial capital. Rarely, through, has planning systematically planned for “our heart”, or that collective psyche that is comprised of our attachment to place, our hang-ups, our hopes, our fears, etc.

Planning for the rational is a good thing. But by not capitalizing on the irrational (leveraging a dogged Cleveland pride for instance), or by letting the irrational run rampant (Cleveland’s risk aversion is a innovation killer, for real), then a locale is setting itself up for failed intentions.  Because if there is one lesson to be taken out of this powerful IMF chief that is now on suicide watch in Riker’s Island, it is that unattended to emotion will always turn your best intentions—your best plans—inside out, leaving you bare for what you are.

So I came up with something called affect planning as a means to attend to the totality of the “person” that is the city; that is, to clean out the baggage where need be and to build on the character strengths so as to fill in the space.  And I came up with some tenants, as well as an actual plan. Here is a teaser:

Place cannot be divorced from feeling. In an environment, one’s perceptions trigger associations which lead to a feeling response. Alternatively, a dominant feeling state, say helplessness or resiliency, can filter the perception of one’s environment. What’s more, feeling leads to motivation, and in the case of cities this means how a city is constructed, i.e, what’s built, what’s preserved, how, where etc. In all, affect planning uses an awareness of a collective’s emotional make-up as a driving force in city building and place-making, with the effect, then, not only a more functional, aesthetic city, but a city of visual “messages” that can help confront persistent negative beliefs.

And here is the plan. Read it. Enjoy. And while it’s proving a pain to implement, its setting a discourse that needs to be set.

Lastly, there are some planners I’d like to thank. First is Norm Krumholz, the Director of City Planning from 1969 to 1979 and the creator of Equity Planning. Norm is a trailblazer in that he created the first Master Plan that was socially-focused as opposed to land based. His perhaps is indeed the first  affect plan.

I’d also like to thank current City of Cleveland Planning Director Bob Brown. He helped me polish the affect plan concept. He is a trailblazer in his own right with the creation of some of the most aggressive urban agricultural policies in the country. Food is heart and body, and the garden is place, so he too can be found “guilty” of implementing a plan as a means to massage the locale’s affect.

To that end, affect planning has been a seed floating in the field for decades. It’s high time the field firmly plants its heart into the body of its master plans.

–By Richey Piiparinen

(Special thanks to Mod{all} studio for their pro bono design work in the plan. Also, I am officially a free agent, and so if you like what you see—and would like a research psychologist turned planner/writer/thinker on staff—drop me a line. Contact r_piiparinen at hotmail dot com. Relocation is a possibility if Cleveland refuses my advances.)

Finally, some city love by a group of og hipsters that sound a little like the Decemberists meets Jethro Tull. Key line:”You got to the love this city for its body and not its brain”.


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