Urban Management versus Management of Interests

Jorge Catarino • Senior Partner S+A


Urban management is, above all, the management of public and private interests. Although being different, they have distinct purposes but common objectives: the welfare of society and the resolution of its problems.

Someone said that architects are the last humanists. Their concerns must have an ethical attitude in which the dignity of the human being is at the forefront of their work. All the living conditions we want to achieve, from housing to health, education, and social inclusion, contribute to this cause. Architect’s intervention does not end when the works are completed or when the decision is taken. Their responsibility has consequences resulting from their experience and the impact they have on the environment, but mainly on human beings.

It is in this context that public and private interests must converge. Urban management must therefore be the instrument that regulates these interests and its intervention must also take precedence over the management of conflicts generated by conflicting interests.

Rationality, as one of the basic principles of humanist ethics, does not have as its praxis the taking of a position by either party, but the reasonableness of the issues they defend.

Not always the public interest (not in its conception, but as a policy of the ruling power) is the general interest. Furthermore, private interest is not always the exclusive interest of a group.

The delimitation of the architect’s action, and by consequence all those intervening in the process of intervention on the territory, is managed within a framework of urbanistic instruments based on administrative law. These are urbanistic instruments that seek to rule public and private interests and, like all legal instruments, are subject to different readings and understandings. However, these instruments should not prevail over the principles and objectives that the community (meaning all human beings) seeks to achieve.

This is why urban management cannot be restricted to the simple application of the law, without any thought or connection to the objectives to be achieved.

Legal hermeneutics, a complex term addressing the interpretation of legal rules, distinguishes four elements to be considered in the process of interpretation and the ‘discovery’ of these rules: the literal (the law), the systematic (the framework in a legal system), the historical (normative precedents) and the teleological (the social design or purpose of the law).

The main problem of most urban management practice lies in the near exclusive application of the first element, disregarding others. It is worrying because it limits the interpretation and application of regulations and prevents the exchange of opinions and, therefore, the ability to find consensus between the parties.

A humanistic ethic in the practice of urban management, aimed at the convergence of interests and compliance with rules, would lead to a reduction in the current conflict between parties, who should be working towards the common and universal objectives of the community.

The legislation has taken a serious path in the search for accountability of public and private entities in urban licensing and also in the shortening of decision-making deadlines.

The management of public and private interests is the most challenging and complex task of urban management.

If we do not understand it, we are giving up on good practice and rationality.

Its application results from what is most difficult to legislate: common sense.


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