Ivan Illich on Planning

Source: Very Small Kitchen

“Surreptitiously, reliance on institutional process has replaced dependence on personal good will. The world has lost its humane dimension and reacquired the factual necessity and fatefulness which were characteristic of primitive times. But while the chaos of the barbarian was constantly ordered in the name of mysterious, anthropomorphic gods, today only man’s planning can be given as a reason for the world being as it is. Man has become the plaything of scientists, engineers, and planners.”

— Ivan Illich in Deschooling Society, 1971

This is part of the Polis collection of quotes related to cities.

+ share


  1. We can often consider planning as a type of social engineering, but this quote ignores the mythical power of the so-called free market. What I mean is that, to use physical development as the example, real estate markets are often controlled only loosely by notions of zoning. The private developer has the ability to manipulate physical space according to his or her profit needs.

    Developers and planners (usually) are not the same, and often exist in an adversarial relationship. And yet ironically, each depends on the other--planners can't develop a city without private investors, and investors require infrastructure and political structures to allow their projects. So, yes, on one hand, man has become the plaything of planners, scientists, and engineers. But on the other, man has relinquished his power to a belief in the market and removed himself from responsibility of his own creation.