In 1960 the Venezuelan government of Rómulo Betancourt created the Corporación Venezolana de Guayana (CVG) to carry forward a project, begun under the recently departed dictatorship, for the construction of a steel mill and a hydroelectric power project in the Guayana region The CVG, an autonomous agency, contracted with the MIT-Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies to assist in planning for the comprehensive development of the Guayana region, and particularly the city that would serve as its center. This book, by one of the MIT-Harvard consulting group, is the first academic study to come out of that collaboration. It is an auspicious start, giving hope not only for future publications in academic circles, but also for the success of the Guayana project itself.
Just over half of the book is devoted to an analysis of (and prognosis for) the Guayana project and more generally of Venezuela’s rather sophisticated efforts at building a regional development policy. The first several chapters, however, are given over to a theory of regional development planning, rather abstractly stated. Fortunately for the reader, the theory is plainly based on John Friedmann’s wide experience in Venezuela, and previously in northeastern Brazil. (He is now directing the Ford Foundation’s Program in Urban and Regional Development in Chile.)
Friedmann’s theory emphasizes a “systems” approach to regional development planning, an approach designed to help the planner to think small while he is thinking big. Regional planning is a national concern, he says, in which the development of the periphery both depends on and supports development in the core region. At each turn he urges us to break up the old formulations for issues into their component parts. Just as he opposes planning based on the idea of “multipurpose regions,” so he rejects thinking on the basis of multipurpose slogans such as “balance v. imbalance,” or “concentration v. dispersal.” He urges us to stop concentrating all our concern on the global figures in national accounts, and to think more qualitatively about the kind of growth we are fomenting. Here he is reminiscent of Albert Hirschman, at any rate to a non-planner and non-economist. Friedmann even hopes that planners who adopt his approach can transcend the issue of “growth v. welfare.” That would be quite a political achievement, since that issue (or, as he might say, pseudo-issue) has been the foundation of so many careers and central to so much politics, as, for example, in Brazil of the 1950s and 1960s.
This last suggestion points up the fact that in his theoretical section Friedmann purports to leave out the “political dimension” of regional policy, even though he recognizes its importance. “It belongs,” he declares, “to another realm of discourse” (p. 19). But in a theory about spatial organization—the “where” of development, as he would say—it is very hard to omit political considerations. For every “where” we can read “who.” That Friedmann is aware of these political issues is clear from his discussion of the Venezuelan experience. The “structural” change implicit in the Guayana project and its smaller counterparts elsewhere in the country suggests a very substantial political change as well, as he recognizes.
Consigning politics to another realm of discourse in the theoretical discussion may be the result of the author’s modest refusal to intrude in someone else’s professional core region. But his excellent treatment of the political dimension in Venezuelan development policy shows that no such modesty is necessary. In fact only one really gloomy thought emerges from reading this rather free survey of the social sciences. When we finally do reach the day of just one social science, that science will be Social Planning! (Sigh.)