A Brief Example of Truth and Lying
The text below is an excerpt from the book Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice, by Bent Flyvbjerg (University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 9-38). The excerpt presents a brief ethnographic example of truth and lying at work in urban policy and planning. The excerpt also illustrates how Bent Flyvbjerg uses in-depth case study research, narrative, and theory to understand difficult issues in policy and planning. For notes and references, please see the book. To browse the book, click here. To see a list of reviews of the book, click here.
Chapter 2: The Aalborg Project
In Aalborg, Denmark, on an autumn day in the late 1970s, a group of high-level city officials are gathered for a meeting. Only one item is on the agenda: initiation of what will eventually become an award-winning project recommended by the OECD for international adoption, on how to integrate environmental and social concerns in city politics and planning, including how to deal with the car in the city. From the very outset the stakes are high. Making the car adapt to the city in the scale now envisioned is something never before tried in Denmark. The project which begins on this day will become known as the "Aalborg Project" and will become one of Denmark’s most lauded, and most controversial, urban projects for the next decade and a half. The actors involved will include the business community, grass-roots organizations, political parties, the largest private corporation in all of Denmark, the trade unions, the police, various local and national consultants, interested citizens, the media, the Danish Town Planning Association, North Jutland County, the Office of Public Health, several agencies of national government, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Danish Environmental Appeals Board, the OECD and Aalborg City Council and its administration. On the first day in the life of the project, however, only a handful of people know about its existence, and only a select few are present at the creation.
The Will to Innovate
The people present at the first meeting are the city engineer, the chief of city planning, the city architect and the director of the Aalborg Bus Company. The first thing this group of leaders does is to form an Executive Committee for the project with themselves as the only members. Subordinate to the Executive Committee, a Task Force is established containing one staff member from each leader’s area of responsibility. From the outset, the Aalborg Project is designed as an inter-organizational and interdisciplinary project. The Office of the City Engineer, the Planning Office, the Office of the City Architect and the Aalborg Bus Company are involved in both the Task Force and the Executive Committee for the project. The city engineer’s representative in the Task Force is made the Project Leader and Secretary to the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is led by the city engineer himself. One member of the Task Force describes the mood at the start of the project and comments upon the interdisciplinary cooperation:
For me there was a rare agreement between the desire to make a contribution and the desire to work far beyond normal working hours. We did this very much, three or four of the five or six who were in the Task Force. It was also like this with the attitude we had to the problems [of the city]. What kind of solution were we actually heading toward? For it is one thing to be willing to exert an extraordinary effort to get some problem solved. But it makes it much easier to get results if there is a unity of spirit in the group, and there was. We worked extremely well together. In fact, since then I don’t think we’ve had a group as good as the Task Force....A good start and good cooperation, which is something we definitely had, is something very, very powerful and difficult to stop.
A three-year plan is developed for the Aalborg Project. The first year will be spent on developing two plans for downtown Aalborg, one for traffic and environment and one for land use. During the second year, the project will be approved by the City Council and action will begin on detailed planning of individual sub-projects. Finally, the third year will see the implementation of the required physical changes in the city and the official inauguration of the completed project.
Eventually, the Aalborg Project will consist of a large number of sub-projects and plans. From early on however, it is clear to those involved that a central priority will be public transportation. Their mission will be to improve the services of the welfare state by subsidizing and planning for better transit. A year before the Aalborg Project began, the municipality had purchased the city’s bus company from an ailing private operator in order to gain control over the provision of this service to the public. The plan is to expand and reorganize the city’s bus system. A new bus terminal, with more than two thousand arriving and departing buses a day, is planned as the hub for the system. The terminal will be the largest single sub-project within the Aalborg Project. In addition to the bus terminal, two other projects are particularly important at this time: a new civic center and a new "buses only" street through the city center. The civic center complex would house the City Council, the Municipal Library, a childrens' library, rooms and facilities for exhibitions and meetings and a restaurant. With a certain symbolism that does not escape the general public, the City Council decides to build the civic center directly on a piece of land originally cleared for a major road link through the city. Creating the right-of-way for the road had leveled parts of Aalborg’s historical center and triggered such controversy that a moratorium was declared on further road construction in the center. The City Council has now made sure that the right-of-way will never be used for its original purpose, physically demonstrating its change in policy by blocking the right-of-way with the civic center and by making the town develop around it. The bus street running through the civic center will provide increased access for public transportation to both the civic center and to the city center in general. Together, the three projects will considerably alter the future appearance and everyday life of Aalborg.
As the bus terminal is the single largest sub-project in the Aalborg Project, and the single most important concern of the Task Force at the outset, I have chosen to make a closer examination of the technical analyses and political decisions affecting the location, size and design of the terminal.
Conditioning the Future
At the start of the Aalborg Project, the Task Force takes it as a given that a bus terminal must be located in downtown Aalborg, and that it will be placed at Nytorv, Aalborg’s historical town square, and the adjacent street of Østeraagade. Why did the Task Force assume the terminal’s location as a given?
The changing role of public transportation in Aalborg is indicated by the increasing amount of money spent on this service. From the year when the Aalborg Project begins until four years later when the bus terminal opens, the Municipality’s total expenses for city buses will triple, while the subsidy will increase ten times. Public transportation is thus a considerable growth sector during these years. As mentioned, a goal of the Aalborg Project and of building the bus terminal is to support and control this growth, to manage the effects of several new bus lines, more passengers and more buses in the streets.
Aalborg ’s bus system is the "hub and spoke" type: all bus lines meet at the city center. New bus lines and additional busses running on existing routes will therefore entail a considerable increase in the number of buses in the center. In the narrow streets of the historical center, this leads to increased pressure on scarce road space. Moreover, the buses in Aalborg operate on what the bus company calls "the correspondence model." Bus schedules are planned so as to enable passengers to transfer from one line to another. Buses thus meet simultaneously at the same place in the city center with a pause of three to five minutes, allowing the passengers to transfer to another line, before all the buses again drive away from the transfer point simultaneously. A logical consequence of the correspondence model is that the expansion of public transport becomes especially space-demanding in the city center, thus necessitating a bus terminal. Yet the location of the terminal remains problematic. Why should the bus terminal be placed at Nytorv and Østeraagade, as advocated by the responsible city officials?
One possible explanation is that prior to the birth of the Aalborg Project, the city government already had plans to bring the buses together at Nytorv-Østeraagade. In minutes from a Municipal Administration (Magistrat) meeting four and a half years before the start of the Aalborg Project, we read that, "representatives of Aalborg Bus Company have declared themselves in accord with and interested in the establishment of the aforementioned bus route [the "buses only" street through the city center] with the intention of establishing a bus terminal in the Østeraagade-Nytorv intersection" (italics added). According to a planning consultant who worked for the city at that time, the idea for the bus terminal came from planners working for the municipality, and the intent was to ensure better penetration of the downtown area by public transportation. The planners managed to have the "buses only" street placed on the planning agenda by making it a prerequisite for the architectural competition for the civic center. When the Aalborg Project is initiated, the "buses only" street and the civic center are under construction. The bus street now points literally toward Nytorv as a logical location for the bus terminal. One of the involved Task Force members explains:
Planner: They started with the bus terminal by building the "buses only" street. If they ended up [locating the terminal somewhere else than at Nytorv]--and this is not mentioned anywhere [in minutes, memoranda and other documents]--then it would have resulted in somebody having made a mistake, right? If someone had figured out that the bus terminal must be placed somewhere else, then [the "buses only" street] would have been a wrong decision.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Planner: Then you would in fact have had a bus street, you know, invested in a bus street under [the civic center], where very few buses would be running [because some other location of the bus terminal would result in another routing of buses].
Even though Nytorv-Østeraagade thus seems destined to become the home of the bus terminal, three months after the start of the Aalborg Project the Task Force begins to discuss other possible locations. Aalborg’s City Architect has aesthetic and environmental concerns about placing such a large construction in the midst of Aalborg’s historic center. First, the terminal would be placed right next to protected, historical buildings. For example, the entire length of one of Aalborg’s few architectural treasures of international repute, the Renaissance building Jens Bang Stone House from 1623, would be covered to the second floor by waiting buses several times per hour. Second, the terminal would be placed in an already congested traffic environment, where the buses could be expected to create problems in relation to pedestrians, bicyclists and cars. Finally, the municipality is fully aware that the management of Aalborg’s intercity bus station and several private bus owners who operate the intercity buses want an eventual city bus terminal to be placed at the intercity bus station, which, as in most Danish towns, is located at the train station. By locating the city bus terminal at the train station, the intercity bus managers and operators hope to obtain better coordination and transfer possibilities between local, regional and national bus and train traffic, in addition to increased revenues for the intercity bus station due to increased activity. Therefore, the Office of the City Architect considers moving the proposed terminal away from Nytorv-Østeraagade and now begins to survey other locations.
Officials of the Aalborg Bus Company react strongly to this turn of events. They quickly compose a two-page "Memorandum Concerning the Aalborg Bus Company’s Demands for the Bus Terminal." These demands are of interest for two reasons. First, it is the only time in the course of almost fifteen years and tens of thousands of pages of documents regarding the Aalborg Project that one part of the city administration puts forth genuine demands to another part and to the planning process itself. Second, it is worth noting that placing the bus terminal at Nytorv would fulfill all the bus company’s demands, even if the memorandum never explicitly cites Nytorv. The demands from Aalborg Bus Company can be summarized in four main points, here quoted from the memorandum (all italics in the original):
(1) The "most important question" to the bus company is "to ensure" that the terminal "be located at the most important destination for bus passengers," which for the company is " the network of pedestrian streets" in downtown Aalborg. (2) Furthermore, the bus company wants buses to " stop at the terminal simultaneously" in order to "provide the possibility for a comfortable transfer between bus lines." But the bus company "cannot tolerate" that the stop at the terminal is longer than three minutes "due to those passengers remaining on the bus." As it takes up to one minute for passengers to exit a bus, this leaves two minutes for walking time between buses, which, when restated as walking distance, translates into a need that all bus stops should be " located at a distance of less than 150 meters [from each other]." (3) The bus company points out that it is "not physically possible" to include suburban and intercity bus lines in a city bus terminal located by the pedestrian streets. To make possible transfers between the different types of bus services, the bus company suggests, therefore, that "a centrally placed transfer area with contact between city buses and other buses should be found." This suggestion will later result in the planning of yet another large bus terminal in the city center. (4) Finally, the bus company points out that "a draft plan for bus routes has made it probable that the needs of the city bus network will be met if possibilities are reserved for the simultaneous placement of 20 city buses at the terminal."
In the photocopy of the memorandum which I examined, and which stems from the archives of the Office of the City Engineer, no less than nine handwritten figures resembling exclamation marks are written in the margin next to the demand that the terminal be able to hold twenty buses. We will return to the question of the size of the terminal later. Here we will continue to focus our attention on its location.
Why does Aalborg Bus Company make demands at all? And why use the term "demands" only here and not in other issues in the project? On this point the responsible government official, Aalborg’s chief planner for public transportation, who is a member of the project’s Task Force and subsequently also of the Executive Committee, comments:
Chief planner for public transportation: I don’t really remember why I used such a strong word. But, in fact, we viewed these things as quite serious. For as I began by saying, this work [the Aalborg Project] was to a great degree caused by the fact that we were getting a bus terminal, and getting a better arrangement for the buses. We also got the impression that from the municipality’s side they were interested in getting good work done and good conditions for the buses. They were willing to spend money on it. That’s probably why we have tried to express in such unambiguous and strong language what we thought was necessary in order to obtain good conditions for the buses.
Interviewer: But these "good conditions," could you only achieve them at Nytorv?
Chief planner for public transportation: No, perhaps not, for the demands you mention are related to the number of buses and maximum walking distance and things like that. We could also get [good conditions for buses] in the harbor areas or at the Railroad Station Square, as long as we are only talking about space [for the buses]. And I don’t think that we use the word "demand" in connection with the other things, that is, regarding questions about travel times and other conditions which in our view make locating the terminal at Nytorv the most desirable option.
The chief planner for public transportation is correct that demands 2, 3, and 4 do not point specifically toward the Nytorv solution. The first demand, however, which explicitly calls for the terminal to be located close to the pedestrian street network, would exclude locating the terminal at either the train station or harbor area.
The bus company’s demands startled the other members of the Task Force. One staff member recounts:
I really fell over that word "demands." We discussed it in [the Task Force], and [the Aalborg Bus Company] said that it could just as well have been "preferences." But they said "demands." We objected to this in the Task Force because if you evaluate various placement options, there will be some sites where some of the demands cannot be met, and other sites where other demands cannot be met [with the exception of Nytorv, where all the demands can be met; this is the critical point]. There will always be a trade-off between advantages and disadvantages. [The chief planner for public transportation] accepts this, of course. But there is no doubt that most likely it is not a coincidence that he has written "demands"...Of course this emphasizes--how should we say it--their preferences, or their proposals for the placement of the bus terminal [at Nytorv].
The bus company’s demands achieve a permanent effect on subsequent planning activity in the Aalborg Project, because they are ratified by the Executive Committee as prerequisites and criteria in the City Architect’s evaluations of alternative placement possibilities for the bus terminal. The result, therefore, seems predestined, and the evaluations, as we will see later, become more ritual than real.
Actors and Structures in Transit
What enabled the Aalborg Bus Company to present genuine "demands" and have them respected by other city administrative organs? Why does the bus company have so much power?
Three factors--structural, organizational and individual--can explain why. First, it has already been noted that public transportation was a significant growth sector at this time--in Aalborg and in all of Denmark. In contrast, the activities of the municipality’s Technical Department containing the offices of the City Engineer, Planning and the City Architect, are all related to construction, and are all in deep recession at this point in time, like construction-related activities in the rest of Denmark and in most of Europe. The recession and the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis begin to have an impact on the power balance between the Aalborg Bus Company and the Technical Department. The bus company obtains increasing patronage and increasing subsidies, whereas the Technical Department is weakened by budget cuts. Here, too, money adds greater weight to an argument, helping it to become a "demand."
Second, the Aalborg Bus Company is an independent public utility company under Aalborg Municipality with responsibility for, and control over, a significant capital and operating budget. The Bus Company, like other utilities, is sovereign in decisions that concern budgetary considerations. To the extent that the bus company argues that a given decision is necessary in order to meet its budget, and that other decisions will strain the budget, it will be difficult or impossible for other administrative organs to oppose these arguments. And this is exactly the tactic used by the bus company when it argues in favor of the correspondence model and the bus terminal’s location at Nytorv: it insists that placing the terminal in locations other than Nytorv would entail longer driving times and thereby increased operating expenses.
There is also a third, personal, source of the bus company’s influence: that it is organizationally placed directly under Aalborg’s charismatic, social democratic mayor. At this time no other politician in Denmark draws more personal votes in the municipal elections, and no other mayor is more powerful. For the time being, then, the bus company’s representatives in the Task Force and Executive Committee have at least as much formal political authority behind them as the entire Task Force and Executive Committee, which is placed under the alderman responsible for the Technical Department and which as mentioned subsumes the three offices of City Engineer, Planning and City Architect. Here it should also be said that even though the mayor and the alderman are formally equal with respect to their responsibility for their different departments, the post of mayor is more prestigious and more visible to the public than that of alderman. The mayor’s visibility, his many personal votes, his charisma and his ambitions makes his area of responsibility especially strong both within the city administration and in the community at large. Finally, the mayor, who has the nickname "Bus-Marius"--his full name is Marius Andersen--was himself employed by the Aalborg Bus Company in his youth and is an enthusiastic advocate of public transportation. The mayor was the key figure in the Municipality’s acquisition of his former employer, and in the subsequent major expansion of public transportation. The mayor explains in his own words:
Interviewer: Does it make a department stronger to have a direct connection to the mayor, as the Aalborg Bus Company did?
Mayor: I would certainly say that it is not a minus. But it is clear that in the decision about just that major issue you are asking about [locating the bus terminal], it does not mean anything, for it is still the City Council which in the final instance must approve these things. This issue was both discussed and approved by the City Council, more than once even--discussed, that is ...We in the Social Democrat group, where I was a member, of course, believed that in order for things to move rapidly, [public transportation] must be under the control of the mayor. And then it was probably also taken into account that in my sweet youth I was employed on the buses.
Interviewer: Yes, you were known as "Bus-Marius"?
Mayor: Exactly, and I still am. So I think that this has meant a great deal. There is no doubt about that. We had many different plans for what we believed needed improvement. And finally, we must also remember that the pressure was enormously great, in that we had run up against all this with oil prices and gasoline prices and such, where the citizens were demanding better public transportation. So just as quickly as I got the plans, and we [the mayor and the Bus Company] could agree on this thing and that thing, they were sent to the Municipal Administration and the City Council. So it’s true, things went fast. This is also because especially in the Planning Office [for Public Transportation] I had [the chief planner for public transportation] and then I had one of my people from the Economic Office. And these two, they were really a good team. I owe them a lot for the contribution they made. I was both pleased and proud of them. We cooperated well, so there was nothing like their having to wait when they came up with something. They practically had first priority in getting access [to the mayor].
The two staff members "came up with" the above-mentioned preference to site the bus terminal at Nytorv-Østeraagade. This preference is then backed by the highest political quarters, that is, by Aalborg’s mayor and by the alderman in charge of the Technical Department. Again, the mayor explains:
Mayor: I don’t think we should hide the fact that we have always considered Nytorv to be the most suitable hub for all public transportation. Therefore we believed that Nytorv was the place for buses...I think that all of us who had something to do with the buses--and when I say "us," I think not only of the politicians, but also of the staff--that we believed it would cause a lot of damage if we chose somewhere else [than Nytorv]. When all is said and done, it turns out that the hub is at Nytorv. You feel that this is where you want to go. Because it is so close to all things, public offices, but also the daily shopping trip and many other things, of course...
Interviewer: Was placing the bus terminal at Nytorv something you had decided upon in advance in the First Department [in the Mayor’s Office]?
Mayor: Perhaps I would not say in the First Department because it was more the experts in the Bus Company under the First Department. It was the First Department, of course, but it was the Bus Company itself. There we agreed, and we have never been in doubt that it should be placed at Nytorv.
Interviewer: Did the alderman for the Technical Department agree to this?
Mayor: I think he agreed with us. I am quite certain.
The mayor’s belief is correct. The alderman for the Technical Department, who had gone along without there apparently being any kind of genuine agreement, elaborates:
Personally I had no doubt that in Aalborg there were so many old traditions linked to Nytorv and so much--what should we say--in connection with planning, with respect to business and to the citizens who came to shop, that Nytorv was the right place.
In direct continuation of this quote, the alderman then proceeds to discuss the evaluation of alternative siting possibilities for the bus terminal, which were being carried out by the Office of the City Architect:
Quite frankly, I must admit that the evaluation [of alternative siting possibilities] was perhaps of a character that it should demonstrate as soon as possible that the other locations were not really well-suited.
Chapter 3: Bacon and Nietzsche Come to Northern Jutland
Given the mayor’s and the alderman’s agreement regarding the exact location of the bus terminal, the City Architect’s anxieties about aesthetics and environment have little political or technical impact. These anxieties were the original reason for undertaking evaluations of alternative placement options for the terminal. However, the evaluations become mere rationalizations of a political decision made in advance. The decision to locate the bus terminal at Nytorv is not explicit at this stage, just as no politicians are directly involved in the planning process at this time. Nevertheless, certain political attitudes become prominent in the course of the work. Witness the following example, from an interview with Aalborg’s chief planner for public transportation:
Chief planner for public transportation: We didn’t draw on the mayor as someone who stood behind us [the bus company] pounding the table...
Interviewer: But in the Executive Committee and the Task Force did you call attention to the fact that the mayor wanted the Nytorv option?
Chief planner for public transportation: No, I didn’t, because I have never discussed this with the mayor. It just wasn’t necessary. It might have been necessary to discuss it with him if the evaluations looked as if they favored a completely different site. Then I would certainly have gone in and discussed his views with him. But as long as we--allow me to say--kept things on the track where I knew that he agreed with us, there was no reason to go in and discuss whether we ought to opt for something else.
The most important means of keeping the decision process "on track" was, first, the bus company’s set of ostensibly neutral demands for placing the bus terminal at Nytorv, as described in the previous chapter. The demands were neutral only in the sense that the precise desired location was never named specifically. A second important means by which the decision was kept on track was the technical evaluations of alternative placement possibilities for the terminal, for which the bus company’s demands were ratified as prerequisites and evaluation criteria. This chapter focuses on how these seemingly neutral evaluations form part of the relations of power which underlie the Aalborg Project.
Decision First, Rationalization Later
Four months after work with the evaluations had begun, a twenty-six-page memorandum is completed, the main conclusion of which is that the bus terminal should be located within the geographic area corresponding to downtown Aalborg. No one has ever suggested or expected anything else. Since the memorandum says nothing about specific placement options for the bus terminal within the downtown area, it is, in effect, an empty exercise that does not advance the decision regarding placement of the terminal any further.
The situation is altered, however, with a second memorandum which appears about a week later. In three pages and nine maps, seven possible locations for the bus terminal are mentioned: (1) Nytorv-Østeraagade; (2) The Railroad Station Square (Banegaardspladsen); (3) The southern part of Østeraagade; (4) Gabelsgade-Nytorv; (5) Budolfi Square (Budolfi Plads); (6) The northern part of Østeraagade towards Castle Square (Slotspladsen); (7) In the area of the block Boulevarden-Algade-Budolfi Plads-Vingaardsgade. The evaluation of the seven placement possibilities with reference to the bus company’s demands occupies a page-and-a-half and fails to make any final conclusion about a preferred placement of the terminal. However, the memorandum states that locations (3) through (7) do not meet the requirements for twenty separate bus stops within the terminal area. Thus, only Nytorv and the Railroad Station Square are viewed as real options. The memorandum concludes that placing the bus terminal in Nytorv will create problems for pedestrians in this area and will cause problems for vehicles delivering goods to certain shops and businesses.
The two memoranda are incomplete. They are a long time in the making, and their collective content--a long text about a non-decision, followed by a short one on the real problem, but again without any recommendations--is clearly unbalanced. In addition, neither memorandum tackles their primary task: to rationally argue for the best placement of the bus terminal in the city center. This may be due to the fact that the author of the memoranda has divided loyalties. On one side stands his chief, the City Architect, who is skeptical about the Nytorv option. On the other the much more powerful coalition of the mayor, the alderman for the Technical Department and the management of the Aalborg Bus Company who all wants precisely the Nytorv option implemented.
Regardless of the reasons for the incomplete nature of the two memoranda, it transpires that even before the technical evaluations of placement options for the terminal have been completed, the Aalborg Project’s Task Force decides to locate the terminal at Nytorv anyway. At the same time, however, it is decided that the evaluation work must be continued, but it is transferred from the Office of the City Architect to the consulting firm which is working for the Technical Department on the overall design of the Aalborg Project. Minutes of a Task Force meeting summarize the situation: "The Task Force agreed upon selecting the Nytorv-Østeraagade intersection as the city bus terminal. [The consulting firm] will elaborate a report which describes the advantages and disadvantages of all the proposed locations for the city bus terminal."
What happens, then, is that the decision regarding the location of the bus terminal is made simultaneously with a decision about elaborating the technical basis for that very decision. The idea that this seems a topsy-turvy way of operating met with laughter in an interview with the head of (and secretary to) the Task Force:
It sounds mystical ... Of course [the two decisions] contradict each other, that’s clear. It must have been a bad secretary [the interviewee himself] who did not censor it out [of the minutes of the meeting] [laughter].
As concerns the transfer of the evaluation work to a consulting firm, the Task Force member who up to this point has been responsible for the evaluations at the Office of the City Architect explains that the transfer was aimed at increasing the credibility of the decision:
We wrote a memorandum. The memorandum still does not have the necessary traffic engineering expertise and needs to be supplemented. The mere fact that it is done by [the consulting firm] means that it obtains this expertise.
Those desiring a location at Nytorv might also see it as an advantage that the work is transferred out of the Office of the City Architect, as it was the City Architect who originally expressed doubts about the Nytorv option. In any case, after the consulting firm takes over the evaluation of alternative locations, work proceeds rapidly. Six days after the Task Force has decided to propose Nytorv and delegate the evaluation work to the firm, the consultants have completed a memorandum on the advantages and disadvantages of eight different location options. Not surprisingly, Nytorv is pointed out as the best site for the bus terminal. The consultants write:
In our opinion, a review of the suitability of the eight selected city bus terminal sites results in favor of the Nytorv-Østeraagade intersection. In relation to the above review, there is as such nothing which speaks against a placement [of the terminal] at this site. The other sites must be discouraged due to the following main objections ... [italics added]
The objections cited include lack of central location, inadequate capacity, too great a walking distance inside the terminal, negative environmental effects, poor entrance and exit possibilities for traffic, and poor visibility. Of interest here, however, are not so much the contents of the specific advantages and disadvantages, but the structure of the entire argumentation. The Nytorv-Østeraagade option is discussed in terms of the advantages of a bus terminal on this site, while for the remaining locations, emphasis is placed on their disadvantages. One can, of course, call this an evaluation of advantages and disadvantages, but it is a quite unique form of evaluation in which the advantages are evaluated for a single option--Nytorv--while for all the other options it is the disadvantages which are highlighted. The consequences are obvious. This unique evaluation method appears not only in the consulting firm’s internal memorandum, but also in the official final report on the bus terminal presented to the City Council and to the public. In this final report, the evaluation method and its results are edited even further, such that every mention of disadvantages for Nytorv and of advantages for the seven remaining location options are now left out.
The City Architect’s reservations about deficiencies in the Nytorv option--aesthetic, environmental and functional--are totally absent from the report. They reemerge later, however, in the political treatment of the overall project design now underway, just as the alternative options to Nytorv show themselves to be unwilling to quietly fade away. But this is a subject for the future. For now the Executive Committee for the Aalborg Project approves the Task Force’s recommendation that the bus terminal be built at Nytorv, and the draft designs of a terminal at this site are begun.
The disagreement between the Office of the City Architect and the bus company regarding the location and size of the bus terminal had the seeds of open confrontation. As we shall see repeatedly in this study, however, confrontation is actively avoided in the Aalborg Project. In this case, the City Architect and the Technical Department adapt themselves to the bus company’s demands for a larger, more centrally placed terminal, despite of the fact that these demands are neither technically nor economically documented.
While interviewing two Task Force members who were the main actors in the evaluation of the bus terminal, I called their attention to the fact that both the procedure and the content of the technical evaluations seem unbalanced:
Interviewer: To me it seems you use a strange sort of evaluation method.
Task Force member: It certainly is. There is no doubt that from the start Aalborg Bus Company simply pointed toward Nytorv as the site where the bus terminal was to be located. Of course it has been the object of discussion both in the Task Force and in the Executive Committee, where it is then decided that the analysis of the location options must be carried out. And where it may sometimes be, I don’t know, probably difficult to execute such an analysis completely and fully when in reality there are people involved who have already made their views known in an especially hard and uncompromising way. And it is certainly correct, I would also say, that if I read through this [evaluation of the bus terminal’s location] that I would also think, "Well, yes, all this sure seems completely strange." I was so deeply involved in the case at that time that I thought it sounded acceptable. [The consulting firm] apparently did so, too. It is they who are listed as the authors. So I cannot really say anything else than I certainly also think now, several years afterwards, that this sounds strange.
Asked the same question, the second Task Force member responds in similar fashion:
Task Force member: It is reasonably clear regarding the demands which the Aalborg Bus Company has formulated that they really were based on the question, "What functions can be carried out at Nytorv?" The evaluation has then consisted of how the other placement options could fulfill these needs compared with Nytorv. And it could certainly be that if other demands had been formulated, or other points of departure were taken, that some other result would have emerged. Then our elaboration of [these location options] would of course have led to something else...But we knew full well that the bus company’s wishes were entirely clear: when we started they wanted Nytorv. But I think really that when we started we were perhaps more critical about a location down there [at Nytorv] and leaned more toward a location at the railroad station. Those were the two alternatives. What did we actually write about the train station? [Reads aloud from the evaluation report:] "Furthermore, location must be completely central in relation to the pedestrian streets." That’s right. It is really fantastic that this is written here. But from the demands made [by Aalborg Bus Company], it’s correct. If this is a prerequisite, then [a location at the Railroad Station square] is no alternative...
Interviewer: In the Task Force you all agreed to propose Nytorv to the Executive Committee. At the same time you decided that a memorandum had to be written which should describe the advantages and disadvantages. In terms of a normal logical sequence I would think that it should have been the reverse.
Task Force member: Yes, that’s entirely clear. The problem in this planning is time pressure. There is, in fact, a set schedule for when a bus terminal at Nytorv-Østeraagade must be established. And whether starting to look at the other [location possibilities] is a plot, or what it really is, I think can be questioned. The memorandum we wrote lacks a more planning and traffic-related evaluation of the different location options, for we had no chance to carry out such things.
Interviewer: But isn’t this just good old fashioned manipulation? To make a decision on something and then say, "Let’s make a memorandum which shows that it is the right decision."
Task Force member: I wouldn’t say that. But you know, it might look kind of strange, right? [Laughter]. And that’s correct--it might, well--of course it resembles--hmmm, you know--rationalization, right?
At this point in the interview this Task Force member clearly became uncomfortable that the interview was being recorded on tape. After the tape recorder was turned off, he called the evaluation of alternative placement options "an unusually poor piece of work." If time pressure is as critical to the quality of the evaluation of the placement options as this Task Force member indicates, it is puzzling that four to five months are allowed to pass from the time it is decided that the evaluations must be carried out until the actual memorandum--with three pages of text--is finished. Until this time the evaluation of the placement possibilities takes place at a leisurely pace. The argument regarding the existence of time pressure and its consequences for the evaluation of placement possibilities does not seem convincing.
In a relatively intensively utilized city center like that of Aalborg, one might expect so much competition for existing space that every application of space has a relatively high opportunity cost and must be evaluated in relation to alternative uses. Such an assessment is not carried out. Considering, for instance, Nytorv-Østeraagade’s historical function as a public gathering place and a market square for Aalborg, it could well be argued that the use of the area for a bus terminal would be a rupture with historical traditions. Alternative uses as parking space, street area, or possible recreational area might also seem realistic. A long-standing proposal with wide public support has been to re-open the "East River" which is presently covered by Østeraagade. This alternative is similarly not considered even though the construction of the bus terminal will have direct consequences for this proposal’s likelihood of ever being realized.
That such evaluations of alternative utilizations of urban space are not considered in the placement of the bus terminal can be seen as yet another expression of the strong position of public transportation in the Aalborg Project and in Aalborg. However, the absence of these evaluations is probably also related to a long-standing Aalborg tradition of expropriating marketplaces, squares, green areas and other open spaces for building and transport purposes. Hence, several sites which the Aalborg city map identifies as "Square" (torv or plads) are now occupied by department stores, office buildings, banks, parking lots and new streets. This tradition, too, can be seen as an expression of a power relation, in this case between a diffuse public interest in keeping the city open and green and the much more focused interest of establishing specific businesses and transport structures.
Rationality as Justification of Power
A short summary is relevant here. Aalborg’s mayor, the alderman in charge of the Technical Department, and the management of the Aalborg Bus Company have both a desire and a strong expectation that a planned terminal for city buses be placed at Nytorv-Østeraagade. The desire has its background in Nytorv’s large physical area and in Nytorv’s central position in downtown Aalborg in relation to the network of pedestrian streets. Besides, Nytorv has historically functioned as a public space in downtown Aalborg and as the hub of Aalborg’s city bus system. Last but not least, the construction of a bus street under the town’s new civic center from Østerbro to Nytorv has led to a predisposition toward locating the bus terminal at Nytorv. If the terminal is not placed here, effective utilization of the bus street will be difficult. Several of the persons interviewed speak frankly about the bus street being a mistaken investment if the terminal is not located at Nytorv, even though this consideration does not explicitly enter into the formal evaluations of the terminal’s site.
The consequence of the strong desire that the bus terminal be located at Nytorv is that several evaluations of alternative placement options for the terminal take on the character of technical rationalizations of a previously made decision. The evaluations of the alternatives were originally begun at the request of Aalborg’s City Architect, who was concerned about the possible negative aesthetic and environmental repercussions of building the bus terminal at Nytorv. With a power configuration consisting of Aalborg’s mayor, the alderman for the Technical Department and the Aalborg Bus Company on the one side, and the City Architect on the other, the evaluations result in the clear-cut selection of Nytorv as the most suitable site for the terminal. This result does not reflect a balanced, neutral analysis, even though the attempt is made to lend it this kind of appearance. The result is due to the fact that in structural terms, with the choice of evaluation criteria and the mode in which they are applied to the individual placement possibilities, the evaluations recapitulate the predestined result: Nytorv inevitably becomes the logical choice. The chief planner for public transportation subsequently comments on what took place:
I think that I had the view that the placement of the bus terminal at Nytorv was already settled upon...I viewed the City Architect’s act as a pro forma act, he needed it for the purpose of indicating a professional attitude externally and internally. In this connection I should mention that it was the same City Architect who a few years previously had approved the destruction of Nytorv’s north and south sides and the construction of the building complex located between the savings bank and the tourist bureau. And then approved the construction of the Stiftstidende [a large building complex with editorial offices and production plant for Aalborg’s daily newspaper, Aalborg Stiftstidende] and Salling [the city’s largest department store]. The aesthetic objection was difficult to take seriously.
What emerges is a picture of technical expertise used as rationalization of policy, of rationality as the legitimation of power. Analyses of project documents support this interpretation, as do interviews with the highest political leaders-- Aalborg’s mayor and the alderman for the Technical Department--and with those staff members who carried out the evaluation studies of the bus terminal’s placement possibilities. However, another interpretation can be found if one speaks with the leader of the Aalborg Project’s Executive Committee, Aalborg’s city engineer. He asserts that the evaluation work was carried out "neutrally and thoroughly:"
It is clear enough that we who have been in the town for many years and have worked with the problem, with the issue, for many years, that we had a preliminary impression of how the bus terminal should be located. It is indisputable that we had such a view. But we can then go back and find several other things where we have had preconceived views and believed that they were correct, but where our analytical work showed that our preconceived views were wrong. So I would say that it was not a sham analysis. Even if deep down inside we believed that the analysis would point toward Nytorv-Østeraagade as the site for a bus terminal. I would also say that the analyses which were carried out were absolutely neutral and thorough, as they ought to be. In my view, the work itself does not bear the impression of a sham.
We may speculate as to whether the city engineer’s views stem from a lack of insight into what has actually been going on. He did not originate the politically preconceived attitude about the terminal’s placement, nor was he immediately responsible for the concrete technical evaluations. Perhaps his view derives from the fact that the work which was carried out under his formal direction, in principle--after generally accepted professional ethical criteria--ought to be "neutral and thorough," and that he is therefore unreflectively presenting the work as such: this is the way it ought to be, and therefore it is this way. Support for this interpretation is seen in the city engineer’s use of the subjunctive mode in explaining that the analyses are "as they ought to be." Finally, it could be that the city engineer, consciously or not, is trying to hide a problematic piece of work, or that due to the time interval between the time of the interview and the actual events he has simply forgotten what really happened.
Power is Knowledge
Regardless of the background for the city engineer’s view, the string of events leading up to the decision on the bus terminal’s placement is a clear example of a rationality-power relation at work. The rationality which is produced is actively formed by the power relations which are themselves grounded and expressed in processes which are social-structural, conjunctural, organizational, and actor-related. Conversely, these power relations are supported by the rationality which is generated.
This is the situation in the preliminary phase of the Aalborg Project, even before formal objectives and an actual project design have been formulated and before politicians and the general public know about the project. And, as we shall see, this situation reemerges repeatedly through the entire life of the project, from genesis and design to approval, implementation, and operation. This type of rationality-power relations and their dynamic interplay are characteristic of the kinds of issues discussed here. It is a far cry from the kind of disinterested "neutrality and thoroughness" that Aalborg’s city engineer talks about.
In the introduction to this book I mentioned Francis Bacon’s famous words, "Knowledge is power." According to Bacon’s dictum, which lies at the core of modernity, the Enlightenment and rationalism, the more knowledge the better. In this and the previous chapter we have seen that the verita effettuale of rationality and power in the Aalborg Project stands Bacon on his head. In Aalborg, "power is knowledge." Power does not seek knowledge out of a Baconian imperative. Rather, power defines what counts as knowledge and rationality, and ultimately, as we shall see, what counts as reality. In Aalborg, the Baconian world-view thus yields to a Nietzschean question: "What in us really wants 'truth’? ... why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance?" (italics in original).
Chapter 4 : Power Defines Reality
There is more to the non-Baconian relationship between power and knowledge in the Aalborg Project. Much more. Barely a year has passed since the project was begun. The draft designs of the bus terminal at Nytorv are proceeding, and the project’s path to implementation should be clear. However, things are not running all that smoothly in the Technical Department. Not everyone believes that the decision about the bus terminal is correct, and dissatisfaction creates friction in the project machinery. There are those who believe that the terminal is too large, considering that it will be located in the heart of Aalborg’s historical center. For these people the question now becomes, "Can the terminal be made smaller?"
From Technical to Political Argument
As mentioned earlier, one of the demands made by Aalborg Bus Company was that the terminal should contain twenty parking spaces for buses. Even though it can be problematic to compare public transportation in various cities, it is nevertheless instructive regarding this particular demand that the Town Hall Square in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, the hub of a bus network serving a population ten times that of Aalborg, contains only twenty-nine bus parking spaces. The demand for twenty parking places in Aalborg derived from the previously mentioned "correspondence model," in which the buses from various lines stop at the terminal simultaneously, allowing passengers to transfer between lines. To allow for passenger transfer, however, the correspondence model requires space for the simultaneous parking of all the buses, which makes it especially land-intensive.
In contrast to the correspondence model, a so-called frequency model allows a high frequency of buses on the most important routes through the city center. The frequency model gives low correspondence, whereas the correspondence model gives low frequency. In the frequency model, the buses’ arrival times at the terminal are staggered, yielding a high frequency of arrival and departure. The frequency model would no longer require the buses to stop and wait at the hub point. The drivers’ rest breaks could take place at the end stations, so that through passengers would not be delayed. Hence, the frequency model would significantly reduce the required size of a bus terminal, if not eliminate the need for it entirely.
In the decision about where to place the bus terminal, no considerations were made regarding the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two models. The correspondence model and the demand for the twenty bus parking spaces was taken as a given. After the decision about the location has been made, however, several members of the Aalborg Project’s Task Force and Executive Committee begin to discuss the advantages of the frequency model and the disadvantages of the correspondence model. A member of the Task Force comments:
How much can the physical spaces [squares, streets, etc.] in the town really take? We clearly pointed out that the best solution seen from our point of view [the Office of the City Architect] for achieving good city spaces and not destroying them with those giant traffic machines was really the frequency model because you could actually be satisfied--if it was on Nytorv for example--with two bus parking places in each direction [on the T-intersection making up Nytorv-Østeraagade], that is, six stops...The problem would have been solved much better with the frequency model. This is completely clear. The frequency model was our favorite...We could see that regardless of how one wanted to place [the bus terminal], it would be very hard [on the city center]. That is, if it was [placed] on the Railroad Station Square, then there would be no Railroad Station Square left; it would become one giant transit center. And it was also very hard on Nytorv.
Aalborg ’s city engineer now calls for yet another memorandum from the municipality’s planning consultants, who are asked to evaluate the frequency model in relation to the correspondence model. The consultants conclude that the correspondence model will benefit the four percent of Aalborg’s bus passengers who (1) travel from a stop on a bus line with low frequency to a stop on another line, and (2) who transfer at the city center. The memorandum concludes that the frequency model partially "discriminates" against such passengers, but that some of the disadvantages can possibly be reduced via a careful planning of routes and driving schedules. On the other hand, application of the frequency model actually improves conditions for nearly fifty percent of the bus passengers: those who (1) travel through the city center without transferring, and (2) those who travel within the parts of the city where buses will run more frequently. Other transferring passengers obtain the same conditions in both models.
The Aalborg Bus Company reacts promptly to the consultant’s memorandum, which can be interpreted as favoring the frequency model, and which is interpreted as such by those who desire a smaller bus terminal. Five days after receiving the memorandum, the Bus Company responds with a "Comment." The company does not discuss the concrete passenger statistics mentioned in the consultant’s memorandum but presents the problem as a case of two contrasting assertions. Distinctions are blurred by the company’s argument that a combination of the correspondence and frequency models is already operating, in that at a given minute--fifteen and forty-five minutes after the hour, for example--a correspondence is achieved between one set of city bus lines and at another point, ten and fifty minutes after the hour, for example, there exists a correspondence between another set of lines:
It therefore seems that the "frequency model’s" high frequency is already present, and that the frequency improvements which are additionally obtainable on the inner part of the main access roads are not significant. [T]he assertion [italics added] that the buses drive in "clusters" [as pointed out in the consultant’s memorandum] is thus not in accordance with the actual situation, and it goes without saying that efforts to retain this high frequency will be kept in the further planning of schedules. Aalborg Bus Company therefore believes that there is no basis to alter the existing planning basis for the city bus terminal.
What is interesting in relation to power and knowledge is not whether the consultants’ or the bus company’s respective assertions are correct. Rather, it is the undocumented way in which the Aalborg Bus Company constructs and executes its argumentation. A member of the project’s Task Force comments that an evaluation of the bus company’s view versus the consulting firm’s view, "was never investigated thoroughly," and that the bus company, "was not interested in having it investigated." By structuring the discussion in terms of two contrasting assertions, the principle of what Jürgen Habermas calls the force of the better argument is replaced by mere force. Instead of rational argument, one gets Realpolitik, and the bus company wins out because of its aforementioned political and organizational dominance.
In addition, after more than a year of planning and designing, time is now becoming a factor. The deadline for finishing the overall project design approaches and passes, and the Task Force is still discussing location and size of the bus terminal. Finally the project’s Executive Committee decides in favor of the bus company. The considerations regarding the frequency model are simply dismissed and the planning basis for the bus terminal remains unaltered. A member of the Task Force comments:
[The "frequency" and "correspondence" models] are analyzed very late, as you can see, and [the consultants] write the memorandum and [the chief planner for public transportation] writes another memorandum. Then all this is examined at a meeting of the Executive Committee. I do not know whether this is in the minutes. There was a--I don’t know if you could say "big"--in any case some discussion of the two views. One view was that we hold on to the correspondence principle on the grounds of the consulting firm’s memo and the remarks made by [the chief planner for public transportation], because he hints that in practice [the bus company] cannot live with the frequency principle. It has such great disadvantages. We came to the conclusion that in reality the time schedule [for the Aalborg Project] would collapse if we were to carry out a systematic analysis of this. So there were two main points of view which were discussed at the Executive Committee meeting, where we decided on the correspondence model.
Will to Knowledge, Will to Ignorance
Like the decision about the placement of the bus terminal, the decision about its size reflects the interaction between technical rationality and power. The documentation not produced is just as interesting as that which is produced. The decision to resolve a clearcut controversy over arguments by simply refusing to investigate it further is "political" by any sense of the term. We can see that the closer one sits to political power, the less use one apparently has for technical documentation, and the less rational one is in this sense.
For example, a thorough analysis of the correspondence and frequency models would certainly involve an evaluation of whether the existing correspondences actually function in practice. Bus traffic in Aalborg was presumably already operating on the correspondence model, and it would have been relatively simple to investigate whether the correspondence between buses at the transfer points was in fact achieved, which is a necessary prerequisite for operating with the model at all. A subsequent study, conducted two years later, showed that about thirty percent of the arrivals in the peak hours were delayed and that the scheduled correspondence did not exist for these arrivals. For passengers arriving on delayed buses, transfer time is maximized instead of minimized: the passengers typically see the back of the bus pulling away just as they arrive at the bus stop with the delayed bus. A thirty percent chance of this happening means that the bus system is not particularly effective for transferring commuters and others who have to meet a certain time. This would seem a strong argument for abandoning the correspondence model. The correspondence study was carried out by the bus company under pressure from the Office of the City Engineer, who wanted the documentation. The correspondence model was, in fact, subsequently abandoned in favor of the frequency model during weekday working hours. At the start of the Aalborg Project, however, this information does not exist, and what it is more important, the bus company is not interested in this knowledge being produced. Instead, the choice of the correspondence model and the decision about the bus terminal’s size are made as if correspondence is actually achieved. The end--a large centrally placed bus terminal--apparently justifies the means.
It also seems self-evident that the size of the bus terminal must be evaluated in the context of the evaluation of the terminal’s location and not after this evaluation. The location possibilities are dependent on the size, and size is affected by location. Such an association is not made explicit in either the consultants’ or the bus company’s memoranda, however. On the contrary, four out of the eight placement options are excluded from evaluation, solely due to their lack of holding capacity for buses. All four options would have had adequate capacity according to the frequency model, but they have already been eliminated, and are not re-introduced, as they logically should have been, when the frequency model and terminal size are discussed.
It is interesting to note the difference in how the various parties involved in the Aalborg Project see and use technical documentation, and especially the difference between the Office of the City Engineer and the Aalborg Bus Company. It is a difference in attitude about the necessity of documenting one’s objectives and projects. The different views seem to generate friction between the two parties, as can be seen from my interview with Aalborg’s chief planner for public transportation:
Interviewer: I believe I observe a difference in the ways which the Office of the City Engineer and the Planning Office for Public Transportation elaborate their documentation. It seems like the Office of the City Engineer places greater emphasis on documentation.
Chief planner for public transportation: We carried out the documentation which we in the Task Force agreed had to be done. So that may be why there is no more [documentation] from this end [the Aalborg Bus Company]. If we had decided that more [documentation] was needed, then we would have produced it...
Interviewer: When you sit here as a planner, and there is something you want to get through [the political process], what kinds of levers do you have to pull on? Is it documentation? I mean, is it important for you that you can say, "Those are the figures, and therefore I want to have this and that?" Or are there other levers, like getting hold of the right persons and convincing them that this is the right thing to do?
Chief planner for public transportation: Today our situation is that we have only one path to follow, that is via the alderman [for the Fifth Department, that is, public utilities to where the buses had been moved at the time of the interview]. If we are to get something done about which he is not convinced already, a strong documentation will be necessary. If it is something which we know he supports, then we in fact do not need to have very much documentation. Perhaps this may well have been the case with some of what we talked about before with the planning of the city center. It had already been decided that a bus terminal was to be built at Nytorv. To document its necessity, we probably regarded as being less important.
Other members of the Aalborg Project’s Task Force do not think that the bus company has always produced the documentation one could want. One Task Force member makes the following comments:
I think that [the bus company’s powerful position in the Mayor’s Office] has at times influenced--how should I say it--their willingness to carry out analyses meant to document the need for or effect of some of the measures taken concerning public transportation. They had no tradition for this....We in the Technical Department, and perhaps especially here in the Office of the City Engineer, tend to analyze things almost completely before they go any further. It doesn’t happen every time, but we do it to a much greater degree [than the bus company]....If we proposed something, then it was often fantastically well-documented. There is no tradition for this at the Aalborg Bus Company, or at the Planning Office for Public Transportation. We have experienced, perhaps more in other contexts, that they certainly do not feel that there is a need for this kind of thing [documentation]. If they say that they cannot live with one or another proposal which we come up with, or [if they have] a proposal which they cannot get through, then we have certainly seen--at least when they were under the Mayor’s Office, but it is partly still the case--that they do not document very well what the problem really is. They say that it just is this or that way.
On some occasions it has also been our experience--this applies to completely different matters--that they propose something where we might say, "We are just not sure that we agree." Then they start saying that they can’t live without it, or with it [whichever applies in the specific case]. Where we then say, "Well, then you must document that," and where [the proposal] then disappears. You know, they do not have the same tradition, and personally I think that this is due to the fact that during that phase [in the Mayor’s Office]...the mayor was very enthusiastic about ensuring that public transportation had good conditions. So they did not need to document through and through. The Social Democrats held the majority [in the City Council] and the mayor had a very big influence [in the City Council and the Municipal Administration]. This means that if the mayor agreed with an idea, then you didn’t really need to waste your energy on documenting it in every detail.
The Bus Company management seems to operate from the Nietzschean "doctrine of Hamlet": "Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion." "Illusion" is produced through the manipulated evaluation of the location and size of the bus terminal. Better knowledge about the physical-aesthetic impact, about correspondence between buses, and--as we shall see later--about environmental consequences, when combined with a more balanced evaluation might destroy the illusion and might "kill" the action the Bus Company wants: a large bus terminal in the center of town.
In summarizing this section, it is important to note that both the Technical Department as well as the consulting firm who elaborates the first design for the Aalborg Project, initially desire a more complete and balanced evaluation of the bus terminal’s location and size. Yet when they fail to succeed in getting their way against the bus company’s pressure for placing the terminal at Nytorv-Østeraagade, the Technical Department proceeds to actively participate in the manipulated evaluation. The Technical Department actually lends its name to the evaluation by publishing it in the Department’s series of reports on the Aalborg Project, which they were not required to do.
The Mayor’s Memorial
In the decision-making process about the placement and size of the bus terminal, the Aalborg Bus Company utilizes a strategy I will call "defining reality." The bus company is not just, or primarily, preoccupied with the interpretation and social construction of certain concepts central to politics and planning in Aalborg. Rather, it seeks to directly influence the physical lay-out and functioning of the city itself. So, instead of spending--or wasting, as the bus company would see it--its time on investigating how the city and its transportation systems function, the bus company tries, with substantial success at this point in the life of the Aalborg Project, to define this functioning. This strategy can be employed because the entity doing the defining has a key position--politically, organizationally, and structurally--in the Aalborg Project. We will encounter the "defining-reality" strategy again later among other strong parties in the project.
A truly balanced evaluation of alternative location options for the bus terminal would have included an evaluation of the terminal’s size, an analysis of the relative benefits and drawbacks of each of the alternative locations, and a comparative evaluation of utilizing each location option for other potential uses. Instead of this kind of evaluation, the Aalborg Bus Company gradually pushes through an evaluation which (1) builds upon a set of evaluative criteria predisposed to the desired placement of the terminal at Nytorv-Østeraagade, and (2) which emphasizes the benefits of the desired location, while emphasizing only the drawbacks of the competitors. The result of the evaluation is a foregone conclusion: it serves to rationalize a prior political decision. Analysis, instead of acting as a foundation for intelligent policy-making, becomes a manipulated instrument of politics.
As for the question of the bus terminal’s size, the reverse tactics are used. When the bus company can no longer control the technical evaluations and when the consulting firm’s analysis calls into question the bus company’s need for a terminal with twenty bus parking spaces in the very center of Aalborg, the bus company transforms the problem from a technical one to a political one by constructing it as two competing assertions. At the political level, the company is strongly allied with Aalborg’s influential mayor, and it benefits from the upswing in public transportation in Denmark at this point in time. As a result, the bus company also wins the struggle over the size of the terminal. The data which speak against a large terminal is suppressed, and further study of the advantages and disadvantages of a large terminal hindered. This is how one constructs a reality called a "large, centrally placed bus terminal."
In the controversy over the terminal’s location, analysis is used to rationalize politics. For the question of the terminal’s size, analysis is pre-empted by use of politics. Techne and rationality are thus clearly subordinated to and used as an integral part of politics and power in the decisions about the Aalborg Project’s largest sub-project. Documentation is not produced "neutrally and thoroughly," as textbooks and Aalborg’s city engineer would have us believe. Efforts to analyze and document are made more in order to rationalize and legitimate established attitudes and prior decisions than to produce a balanced, documentary basis for making decisions. Where there is disagreement regarding the decisions, the documentation is manipulated or left out in order to strengthen one’s own positions or weaken that of opponents. Analysis and knowledge are an integral part of the political-administrative power struggle.
The power balance in this struggle now proceeds to the design table for detailed drafting on its way to finding its physical-spatial expression: a monument to Aalborg’s mayor and his buses. In this way a power-based political decision is given the appearance of having been technical-rational and democratic. Not only is the general public manipulated and ignored in this procedure, but so is the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, which subsequently finds the bus terminal’s expected environmental impacts to be "unacceptable" and demands a renewed study of alternative location options for the terminal. In reality, the alternative locations and sizes for the bus terminal have never been evaluated neutrally, and today the bus terminal--popularly called the "Marius Memorial" (Marius Minde) after the mayor--is located precisely where a monument to power should be: in the historical core of Aalborg. The bus terminal has become yet another expression of a more than century-long tradition for brutalistic urban politics and planning in Aalborg, a politics with which the Aalborg Project was otherwise intended to break.
With these considerations, however, we are getting ahead of the case story. So far, we can provisionally conclude that power does not limit itself to defining a specific kind of knowledge, conception, or discourse of reality. Rather, power defines physical, economic, ecological, and social reality itself. Power is more concerned with defining a specific reality than with understanding what reality is. Thus, power seeks change, not knowledge. And power may very well see knowledge as an obstacle to the change power wants. This, I will argue, is the most important single characteristic of the rationality of power, that is, of the strategies and tactics of power in relation to rationality. Power, quite simply, produces that knowledge and that rationality which is conducive to the reality it wants. Conversely, power suppresses that knowledge and rationality for which it has no use. In modern societies the ability to facilitate or suppress knowledge is in large part what defines one party being more powerful than another.
To Preserve a Moment
So far in the Aalborg Project, the relationship between rationality and power can best be summarized in the following proposition: "Power defines rationality and power defines reality." This phenomenology of power and rationality is related to that most fundamental aspect of will to power, the will to survival. Will to power is manifested in the ability to make one’s own view of the world the very world in which others live. The Aalborg "transit lobby" clearly has this ability. Will to survival is Nietzsche’s message when he speaks of people as "clever animals" who "invented knowledge," calling this invention both "arrogant" and "untruthful" but at the same time "a help...to preserve [man] a moment in...existence." At the most basic level this is what the "Marius Memorial" is about.
According to Kant, "The possession of power unavoidably spoils the free use of reason." On the basis of the case of the Aalborg bus terminal, we may expand on Kant by observing that the possession of more power appears to spoil reason even more. One of the privileges of power, and an integral part of its rationality, is the freedom to define reality. The greater the power, the greater the freedom in this respect, and the less need for power to understand how reality is constructed. The absence of rational arguments and factual documentation in support of certain actions may be just as important indicators of power as the arguments and documentation produced. A party’s unwillingness to present rational argument or documentation may quite simply indicate the freedom to define reality.
As will be shown, rational argument is one of the few forms of power which those without much influence still possess; rationality is part of the power of the weak. This mechanism in part explains the enormous appeal of the Enlightenment project to those outside power. Machiavelli, however, does not put much trust in rational persuasion. "We must distinguish," he says in The Prince, "between...those who to achieve their purpose can force the issue and those who must use persuasion. In the second case, they always come to grief." "Always" may be somewhat exaggerated and much has happened in terms of Enlightenment and modernity since Machiavelli wrote these words. Nevertheless, at this stage Machiavelli’s analysis certainly applies in the case of the Aalborg Project which is pre-modern in this sense.
Nietzsche puts an interesting twist on the proposition "the greater the power, the less the rationality" by directly linking power and stupidity: "Coming to power is a costly business: power makes stupid," Nietzsche says, adding that "politics devours all seriousness for really intellectual things" (emphasis in original). In a critique of Charles Darwin, Nietzsche further points out that for human beings the outcome of the struggle for survival will be the opposite of that "desired" by Darwinism, because "Darwin forgot the mind," and because "He who possesses strength divests himself of mind." Nietzsche saw that the marginalization of mind and intellect by power was a central problem for the German Reich and on this basis he predicted--correctly, we now know--the fall of the Reich. The marginalization of mind by power will also become a problem for Aalborg’s mayor, and it will eventually cost him his political life and a prison sentence. Will to power is a will to life, but it may well lead to self-destruction.
In sum, what we see in Aalborg is not only, and not primarily, a general "will to knowledge," but also "a far more powerful will: the will to ignorance, to the uncertain, to the untrue! Not as its [will to knowledge’s] opposite but--as its refinement!" Power, quite simply, often finds ignorance, deception, self-deception, rationalizations, and lies more useful for its purposes than truth and rationality, despite all costs. But Nietzsche is wrong when he says, "Who alone has good reason to lie his way out of reality? He who suffers from it. But to suffer from reality is to be a piece of reality that has come to grief." What makes Nietzsche wrong here is the "alone" in the first sentence of the quote. In Aalborg, we will encounter individuals and groups that have good reasons to rationalize and lie, individuals and groups that neither suffers from reality nor comes to grief by it. These are individuals and groups that stand to gain from reality--or from certain interpretations, rationalizations, and lies about it--and that use politics to create the reality they want. When it comes to politics, even Plato--the ultimate defender of rationality--recommended the "noble lie," that is, the lie which would be told to the citizens of his model state in order to support its moral and political order.
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