Stephen Wheeler’s Technology and Planning: A Note of Caution (2001) is a cautionary tale about the negative side-effects associated with technological advances in the planning profession. Wheeler argues that the biggest challenge facing the planning profession is actually trying to understand the way technology is shaping our profession. I agree that technology plays a major part in the way we view and practice planning today, but I do not believe we do not need to “step back” from technology. We need simply need to be willing to step outside the box sometimes and not to rely too heavily on technology moving forward. Technology is not going anywhere and I think it is important to embrace what technology has to offer. Having said that, I believe it is also paramount that we continue to teach critical thinking and problem solving skills to planners moving forward.
Wheeler makes an excellent point about how technology allows “armchair” planners think they can solve all of the world’s problems from a GIS lab. Planners are becoming less active as members of the community in which they are serving. In my opinion, this is becoming a serious issue in many urban areas where technology actually making it harder for disadvantaged communities and citizens to be more involved in the planning process. Wheeler makes another fantastic point when he argues that planners have an “ethical responsibility” to address urban problems and protect citizens from being steamrolled by complex technology they do not understand. This is why advocacy planning is so important in urban areas. Many developers and wealthy organizations have used technology to their advantage in disadvantaged communities that lack technological skills. I believe it is absolutely critical that planners still engage members of the community in the planning process and make every attempt bridge the gap of the digital divide, especially in urban areas where citizens tend not to be as tech-savvy.
Wheeler really drives home his note of caution about a healthy balance of technology and other methods during the conclusion of his article. Technology is certainly not a silver bullet for all the troubles that planners face, but it does make life a lot easier. I completely agree with Wheeler in that we as planners need to do a better job of “stepping out of our technocractic roles as planners to take leadership in addressing urban problems.” I do not believe we need to limit the scope of technology in the planning profession – we simply need to be more conscious of the way technology shapes our mindset as planners.