Willem  Salet Author of Evaluating Organization Development

Willem Salet

Professor Urban and Regional Planning
University of Amsterdam

Willem Salet is professor urban and regional planning, at the University of Amsterdam. He chaired Urban Planning from 1998 to 2017. He was the President of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) 2008-2010 and was awarded AESOP Honorary Membership in 2016. E-mail address: [email protected]


As a sociologist and urban planner, Willem Salet specializes in the institutional aspects of changing city-regions. Institutions are defined here in sociological sense as the patterning of public norms. He investigates the cultural, legal and political aspects of public norms in the making of sustainable city-regions. Salet coordinated a number of international studies about urban transition, urban governance and strategic urban projects. This research includes (with Andy Thornley and Anton Kreukels (2003) Metropolitan Governance and Spatial Planning; Comparative Case Studies of European City-regions (London, Routledge); with Enrico Gualini (2007), Framing Strategic Urban Projects: Learning from experiences in Europe (London, Routledge); with Federico Savini (2016) focusing on the political dimension of institutions: Planning Projects in Transition: Interventions, Regulations and Investments (Berlin, Jovis). Further research explored the cultural dimension of institutions (with Sebastian Dembski). With Marleen van Rijswick, Jochem de Vries and other colleagues, he investigated the contextualization of law and regulation. One of the current research projects conducts a global exploration of the Right to Build (with Camilla d’Ottaviano, Stan Majoor, Suzana Pasternak & Daan Bosschuyt in cooperation with European, Latin-American and African researchers.
His planning theoretical work focuses on the interaction of public norms and purposive strategies of public action. The recent book Public Norms and Aspirations: The Turn into Institutions in Action (New York, Routledge, 2018) summarizes this conceptual framework. Institutions and purposive strategies are essentially different. The institutional aspects contain normative conditions to action; the purposive strategies concentrate on objectives, problem solving and the performance of  action. Willem Salet claims that a productive interaction between these two dimensions is needed to legitimate and effectuate processes of public action. These dialectic interactions are further explored by a selective group of authors in Salet, W. (ed.) (2018) The Routledge Handbook of Institutions and Planning in Action. New York, Routledge.

Areas of Research / Professional Expertise

    Urban planning, sociology, institutional research, urban studies



Featured Title
 Featured Title - Public Norms SALET - 1st Edition book cover


Journal of Environmental Planning and Management

Contextualisation of Policy and Law in Sustainable Urban Development

Published: Jan 29, 2018 by Journal of Environmental Planning and Management
Authors: Salet, W. & J. de Vries
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

The authors focus on the potential of legal contextualisation: the challenge of how to improve on regulation in such a way that it guides local practices but simultaneously enables optimal use of context bounded option space. Four operational avenues are constructed: the quality of legal norms; the alignment of norms in different positions (the legislation, the court, etc.); the temporal alignment of different moments of legal validation; the different roles that government agencies take.

Planning Theory

Dilemmas of planning: Intervention, regulation, and investment

Published: Apr 22, 2014 by Planning Theory
Authors: Savini, F., Majoor, S., & Salet, W.
Subjects: Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Planning is understood as a structural tension between organization and spontaneity. The article provides a detailed profile of three specific dilemmas: the dilemmas of intervention, regulation, and investment. The article explores the key notions of “space and time” in the intervention dilemma, “material and procedural norms” in the regulation dilemma, and “risk and income” in the investment dilemma. Planning practice should deliberately navigate through these dilemmas.

European Planning Systems

The Authenticity of Spatial Planning Knowledge

Published: Nov 12, 2012 by European Planning Systems
Authors: Willem Salet
Subjects: Urban Planning, Urban Studies

The author defines the authentic identity of the spatial planning discipline in the conceptual coherence of five dimensions: practical context, spatial norms, knowledge and action, to be validated in new contexts of practice. The author states that different planning paradigms interconnect the five dimensions in their own way and in doing so innovate the authentic body of planning knowledge.

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

Complexity and Uncertainty: Problem or Asset in Decision Making of Mega Infrastructure Projects?

Published: Mar 02, 2012 by International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Authors: Salet, W., Bertolini, L. & Giezen, M
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Urban Studies

Three concepts are introduced to deal with complexity and uncertainty in projects: (1) the change of institutions to address the problem of excessively simple structures for making decisions on complex projects; (2) the shaping of a learning environment to deal with emergent properties; and (3) balancing the generation and the reduction of a variety of policy options to bridge the strategic exploration and the operational processes of decision-making.

Ecology & Society

Enabling the Contextualization of Legal Rules in Responsive Strategies to Climate Change

Published: Feb 17, 2012 by Ecology & Society
Authors: Rijswick, M. & W. Salet
Subjects: Environment and Sustainability, Law, Urban Planning

Rather than the instrumental use of command and control regulation, legal perspectives should focus on establishing norms that enable the search for different solutions in different contexts. The concept of legal obligation is explored as embodying the meaning of legality, and at the same time conditioning and committing the probing of different ways of purposeful action in different situations. The innovative potential of legal norms is demonstrated by the contextualization of legal norms.

Environment & Planning A

The Transformative Potential of Institutions: How Symbolic Markers Can Institute New Social Meaning in Changing Cities

Published: Mar 01, 2010 by Environment & Planning A
Authors: Dembski, S. & W. Salet
Subjects: Media and Cultural Studies, Environment and Sustainability, Urban Planning, Communications Studies

Planners use symbolic markers to frame processes of urban change and to mobilize actors (metaphors, landmarks, iconic buildings, etc.). Symbolic communication, however, is not always effective. This paper tries to explain the success or failure of symbolic communication by analyzing it from an institutional perspective. The crucial question is whether - and if so - how the use of symbols is normalized in institutional frameworks.

Journal of Planning Education and Research

Evolving Institutions

Published: Sep 01, 2002 by Journal of Planning Education and Research
Authors: Salet, W.
Subjects: Law, Urban Planning

This article explores how institutions evolve in the practice of planning and law. How are institutions validated in daily policies and how may the meaning of institutional norms change in the course of action? General norms may be given new meanings, when problems and social conflicts arise. The author contrasts the induction of norms in Anglo-Saxon systems to the deductive German system, and discusses the pattern of political “self-limitation” in the Dutch system