I managed to score an HD for this essay. It’s an interesting topic. Hope you enjoy!

Legacy (2015) argues that, ‘Participation under a neo-liberal political regime severely limits the democratic reach of participatory and deliberative planning.’ Conversely, profound processes of ‘deliberation’ come with risks for achieving action in confronting the challenges of urban governance. Using appropriate examples of strategic planning, consider the conflict between public input, community interests and effective outcomes in practice, and discuss the theoretical tensions this can present.

Maginn et al. (2016, p. 137) state that strategic plans in Australia ‘are more like glossy place promotion brochures’ and that there is ‘little evidence that metropolitan strategies have had direct or tangible effects on development outcomes.’ This appears to be an apt characterisation as strategic plans are often pushed aside the moment a governing party pursues a new idea or is voted out of office. Much of this, as Legacy (2015) argues, is due to the failure of the neo-liberal governance model to facilitate a long-lived strategic plan. Instead, governments are left to the whim of economic markets that do not operate predictably over long periods. In this essay, the tension between the neo-liberal governance model and deliberative/communicative planning will be discussed. The essay will begin with a recount of the rise of communicative planning ideals in response to predominate modernist practices that had fallen out of favour. The discussion will then move to the intrusion of the neo-liberal paradigm and how its clash with deliberative processes can see public backlash and electoral shift. Before concluding, the essay will discuss means of incorporating deliberative processes within the making of strategic plans whilst also permitting a firm economic grounding.

Rise of Communicative Planning

Our understanding of the purpose of town planning has shifted greatly over the past 150 years. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Scott (1998, p. 87-102) argues that Western societies took a ‘high modernist’ turn in the governing and structuring of society. This reformation saw the rise of a supposedly scientific and technical approach to planning in which cities, towns, regions, and their customs and practices were cut down to their simplest elements that could be easily controlled and manipulated by the state. It was a time when policymakers turned to new philosophies under the belief that former societal practices were regressive and inefficient. For planning, this meant that the former organic development of settlements was to be abandoned and must be replaced with master planning by technical theorists such as the well-known Le Corbusier and Robert Moses. Much of this restructuring of town planning was held back by world wars, however, post-war reconstruction saw immense governmental intervention and stimulus into the growth of settlements and regions. Taylor (1998, p. 8) argues that town planning, especially in Britain, was practiced as an extension of architecture in the post-war period. Sticking to the technical approach, this architectural focus would divide settlements into land uses and enforce strict built form controls. The practice gave minimal consideration to full societal concerns, though it was undertaken under the premise of improving living conditions, but the naivety of planners as to the intricate needs of a society likely resulted in the structural enforcement of inequity. Planning would function in this way for a number of decades before localised opposition saw planning reform.

Taylor (1998, p. 75-91) argues that the rise of communicative planning through the post-modernist reformation of the 1970s was a recognition that planning is a ‘political process’. ‘Political’, in this sense, is not used negatively. Rather, the political process allows the community and stakeholders to deliberate, debate, and even vote on proposed planning initiatives. Mees (2010, p. 99-100) recounts the freeway revolts that occurred in Toronto and Melbourne during the 1970s. In both cases, policymakers had designed a road-based transportation system through the modernist technical approach to planning. The designs would require the forced acquisition of private property and see the construction of large highways through the middle of communities. The Melbourne example from the 1970s was the proposed Eastern Freeway extension through Melbourne’s inner north. Community groups were successful in their campaign to oppose the road, but the freeway never left the masterplan, as will be discussed later. Sager (2009) defines a communicative planner as someone who ‘facilitates discussion and attempts to involve even marginalised interests’. The communicative planner should strive to look beyond the basic economics of a proposal and enable full societal concerns to be heard in the planning process. In many respects, this communicative process offers greater value for the strategic arm of planning especially in Victoria where the statutory arm is still conducted using the technical, modernist approach as discussed above. Nevertheless, as the statutory framework is developed through a strategic foundation, there is high potential for the communicative approach to have far reaching impacts in the planning framework. However, the post-modernist reformation occurred alongside a broader economic restructure of governmental systems, which has come to cause great tension between societal and economic interests.

Neo-Liberal Intrusion

Healey (2006, p. 14) explains that, at the same time as the practice of planning was being reformed through the 1970s, the prevailing economic structure within Western societies was also reforming. This included a shift from the ‘demand-stimulation strategies’, as promoted by John Maynard Keynes following the Great Depression, to a greater focus on economic ‘supply’. Healey goes on to explain that this ‘neo-liberal’ turn concerned itself with reducing regulatory burdens placed upon private business and winding back government involvement in the everyday running of the economy. The impacts of this governmental restructure were felt heavily in the United Kingdom and the United States through the 1980s as both nations were ruled by conservative administrations. The impact would be less so in Australia, however, Victoria saw large-scale privatisations through the 1990s via the Kennett Government and the election of the Howard Government in 1996 saw the neo-liberal ideology rolled out nationally. Today, the neo-liberal ideology is deeply ingrained in global markets. Governments are restrained in their ability to enact policies that increase regulatory oversight, nor are they able to readily source funding for initiatives that struggle to demonstrate their economic return. The concern here for planning is that the new communicative/postmodernist framework, with its emphasis on considering all societal concerns beyond those with a direct economic link, is that it can be difficult to justify strategic plans that do not consider economic performance first a foremost. Further, a continued financial squeeze has seen governments intentionally limiting the reach of communicative planning practices with the aim of artificially manufacturing economic confidence for private enterprise employed to implement state projects.

Legacy (2015) refers to the strict economic remit of the neo-liberal ideology as a ‘post-political’ environment for planning. This environment can see, especially for large or costly government proposals, public participation actively prevented or the process constructed in such a manner that public opinion is not given the ability to sway the final outcome. As discussed, preventing public participation in the planning process is theorised to provide greater economic confidence for private contractors, however, governments also create or restructure their own departments to see them operate in the manner of a private agency beyond the reach of regular public oversight. Sager (2009) refers to this as the ‘depoliticising [of] decisions by making them a matter of operational management’. He goes on to say that this results in ‘social and political issues [being] reduced to technical and procedural matters’. This premise at the core of the neo-liberal ideology unwittingly forces planning to return to its modernist foundations where the whims of theorists are forced upon society and the public is seen as a mere element to be manipulated and controlled. Planners, therefore, are forced to contend between the ideals of communicative planning, with its core intended to uphold the interests of all society, and that of the neo-liberal governance model, which allows consideration into areas only that provide a strong economic link. As with the freeway revolts of the 1970s, this means that the public must turn to extra-process activism in order to amend or overturn governmental decisions. For Melbourne, it was precisely this that occurred in opposition to the re-proposed Eastern Freeway extension (East West Link) and likely saw a government fall as a result.

Erosion of Participation

The East West Link, as recounted by Legacy (2015), was a proposed set of twin road tunnels connecting the Eastern Freeway from Hoddle Street in Clifton Hill to the City Link Tollway in Parkville. The road differed from the 1970s proposal, which was planned to be an open-cut trench through the inner suburbs of Melbourne rather than a tunnel. However, the proposed tunnels still saw strong opposition from residents and transport planning academics. The core of the resident opposition was that the Baillieu/Napthine Liberal Government (which proposed the road) did not announce the project as one of their initiatives prior to winning government. Indeed, Legacy (2015) contends that the Baillieu/Napthine Government was elected on the promise of enabling long-awaited public transport projects. The Liberal Government’s Public Transport and Roads Minister Terry Mulder even announced prior to and following winning government that, ‘We went to the election to say that we had no plans for the tunnel. And that is our policy’ (Millar & Dowling 2013). Further to resident opposition, transport academics opposed the proposal on the long-established theory that urban road projects do not alleviate the traffic problems that they are intended to solve. Rather, they act to worsen the problem (Speck 2018, p. 64). The Baillieu/Napthine Government actively moved to reduce the ability of the public to be involved in the planning process, even changing the law to do so, and rushed other required statutory approvals in order to sign construction contracts prior to the 2014 election. Opposition groups were forced to mobilise outside the planning process through activism that saw large media interest. The campaign was so strong that the opposition Labor Party promised to abandon construction of the tunnels should they win government.

The Baillieu/Napthine Government was voted out of office in 2014 to make way for the Andrews Labor Government. The new Andrews Government moved to cancel the East West Link contracts despite an enormous cost in compensation arranged in secret between the contractors and the former government (Legacy 2015). It seemed from this point that the neo-liberal governmental structure would be reformed in Victoria, particularly for planning, as the Andrews Government appeared willing to uphold community concerns. However, Legacy notes that the former government had amended the Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act 2009 resulting in the erosion of public participation in major projects. Moving into the initiatives of the Andrews Government, it is clear that this amendment is continuing to be used in such a manner to prevent public participation, particularly in transport matters. Recent deliberative initiatives (too recent to be the subject of peer reviewed academic analysis), such as the proposed North East Link, have been labelled a ‘show trial’ by affected residents as Government contractors begin work despite a continuing planning process (Lucas 2019). The devolution of government departments to that of agencies conducted in the manner of a private business can also be seen under the new government. New agencies have been established for the handling of level crossing removals, the construction of various freeways, the expansion of suburban roads, and for the building of railway infrastructure. For all these projects, the Government has not permitted the public to discuss the underlying problems intended to be solved. Instead, public participation is reduced to that of deciding minor matters, such as relating to building facades and colours.

Enhancing Communicative Processes

In returning to the argument by Legacy (2015) that, ‘Participation under a neo-liberal governance regime severely limits the democratic reach of participatory and deliberative planning’, and the challenges that ‘deliberation’ pose for governments operating under the neo-liberal model, it is important to consider whether the best interests for both parties, public and government, are being met through the current system. It may be argued that the current model is failing both parties with the public dissatisfied by planning processes and government facing backlash at the ballot box, as can be seen from the Baillieu/Napthine Government’s election loss. No party truly wins in these circumstances, not even the public, who managed to see the East West Link abandoned, as they are still not given the opportunity to discuss the underlying problems that strategic plans aimed to remedy. Sager (2009) argues that government must move away from its sole commitment to economic performance as the measure for good government. He goes on to quote Denhardt and Denhardt (2015, p. 1) who state that, ‘Government [should not] be run like a business, it should be run like a democracy.’ For Sager, an important step in this reformation is for government to recognise that individual members of the public (which he refers to as ‘citizens’) have needs that cannot be met through the sole characterisation of individuals as ‘consumers’. However, Taylor (1998, p. 130-154) notes that we cannot ignore the neo-liberal paradigm so long as we continue to operate within its framework. With this, new planning processes must be considered that aim to meet both societal and economic demands.

A potential means of solving the deadlock between societal and economic needs is to pursue strategic plans that have both a communicative and economic basis. With this, both the public and private contractors can have confidence that proposed plans and initiatives will not be thrown out on a whim by new governments. In an examination of four different planning styles, Innes and Gruber (2005) found that ‘collaboration’ provided the best outcomes ‘where diversity and interdependence interests are high’. This suggests that strategic plans must be undertaken through a communicative process if they are to remain relevant in the political cycle and maintain public support. Incorporating economic return into plans derived from a communicative process, rather than merely relaying economic initiatives to a passive public, is an approach that every government should consider if they care for their own longevity. A further means for this process may even include the ability for the public to vote on larger initiatives, as Mees (2010, p. 129-145) recounts for the experience of Zurich in the 1960s and 70s. As in much of the world, governing authorities in Zurich had pursued a road-based transportation system, however, local laws required expensive initiatives, such as highway construction, to be put to public vote. The public defeated the road-based proposal in favour of greater investment in public transport. Mees goes on to recount the success of the of the Zurich transport system into the 21st century with the example demonstrating that deliberative processes do have the potential to provide economic confidence and prosperity.

Summary

It is likely, as Legacy (2015) contends, that the neo-liberal governance model has resulted the limiting of deliberative planning processes. Neo-liberal governance puts economic interests at the core of planning decisions and gives little consideration to wider societal concerns. This is in contrast to the ideals of communicative planning, which rose in recognition that planning must be understood as a political process unlike the modernist application of planning practiced from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The neo-liberal model, despite its preference with current governments, fails to adequately serve both the public and the government. Public participation is reduced and communities are not permitted to discuss the underlying cause of the problems they face. Governments, meanwhile, risk electoral backlash, as we saw with the East West Link, should they drive the neo-liberal ideology to its logical end. However, it may be possible to reactivate communicative processes within a tight economic remit provided that consensus can be reached on the deliberative process. Strategies developed with a collaborative approach have been shown to provide greater outcomes and receive greater governmental and community respect. These processes are also shown to provide the economic confidence required within the neo-liberal paradigm.

 

References

Denhardt, J & Denhardt, B 2015, The New Public Service: Serving, Not Steering, 4th edn, Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, London & New York.

Healey, P 2006, Collaborative Planning: Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies, 2nd edn, Palgrave Macmillan, Hampshire & New York.

Innes, J and Gruber, J 2005, ‘Planning Styles in Conflict: The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’, Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 71, No. 2, pp. 177-188.

Legacy, C 2015, ‘Transforming transport planning in the postpolitical era’, Urban Studies, Vol. 53, No. 14, pp. 3108-3124.

Lucas, C 2019, ‘North East Link hearings branded a ‘show trial’ as early works start’, The Age, 27 October, viewed 30 October 2019, <https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/north-east-link-hearings-branded-a-show-trial-as-early-works-start-20191025-p534c5.html&gt;

Maginn, P, Goodman, R, Gurran, N, & Ruming, K 2017, ‘What’s so strategic about Australian metropolitan plans and planning reform?’, in L Albrechts, A Balducci, & J Hillier (eds), Situated Practices of Strategic Planning: An international perspective, Routledge: Taylor &

Francis Group, London & New York, pp. 135-157.
Mees, P 2010, Transport for Suburbia. Beyond the Automobile Age, Earthscan, London.

Millar, R & Dowling, J 2013, ‘East-west rationale to stay secret’, The Age, 25 August, viewed 25 October 2019, <https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/east-west-rationale-to-stay-secret-20130824-2sis1.html&gt;

Sager, T 2009, ‘Planners’ Role: Torn between Dialogical Ideals and Neo-liberal Realities’, European Planning Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 65-84.

Scott, J 1998, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.

Speck, J 2018, Walkable City Rules: 101 Steps to Making Better Places, Island Press, USA.

Taylor, N 1998, Urban Planning Theory since 1945, Sage Publications, London.