Discussion paper: Legitimacy of bottom-up planning: the need for facilitation of substantive discussions in planning processes

Melika Levelt, Fabi van Berkel

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In the last decades, citizen initiatives have become more important for neighbourhood development. This applies as well to sustaining urban green and the (temporary) development of urban food gardening and small parks. Development through citizen initiatives is not a straight-forward task for planners as it means a new way of planning and legitimizing of planning decisions. Although citizen initiative and involvement in planning has gained much attention in planning practice in the last decades, planners still struggle with it. Citizen and entrepreneurial initiators of land-use projects for green and urban farming also have difficulty to understand the process of project approval or denial. Following the analysis of Schatz and Roberts (2016) of an ‘untenable governance ménage à trois’ of relational, participatory and neoliberal planning, it seems that in bottom-up planning three types of planning come together: technocratic, deliberative, and neoliberal. This makes the current struggles of planners and initiators involved in bottom-up spatial planning no surprise. In this paper we explore, based on a literature review, ingredients for a tool that could help professional planners (civil servants) and initiators to better understand each other and the planning process and improve the substantive discussion on land-use initiatives and in this way the accountability, credibility and thus, legitimacy of decision. To come to our list of ingredients, we take inspiration from the work of Mouffe and others who have stressed the conflicting views and interests involved in any policy issue. Taking her ‘agonistic approach’ to policy-making we aim to develop a tool that gives more room to substance in policy making: the different motivations, ambitions and political views of people in planning processes. Following scholars that take the work of Mouffe one step further, we look at concepts of boundary work and boundary objects (Metze, 2010), policy arrangements (Buizer, 2009) and a trading zone approach (Saporito, 2016) to come to a better understanding of, and a practical solution to, how to work with conflicting views in practice on planning process as well as substance. Second, we turn to social psychology and conflict resolution (Illes et al. 2014, Nash et al. 2010) to better understand the conflicts at stake around land-use decisions and to identify productive and counterproductive strategies to work with these conflicts. Third, we take inspiration in business literature to better understand how we can depict conflicting views for land-use and how we can come to a workable and integral concept of how to use a specific plot of land.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2016
EventThe Regional Studies Association Winter Conference 2016: New Pressures on Cities and Regions - London, United Kingdom
Duration: 24 Nov 201625 Nov 2016


ConferenceThe Regional Studies Association Winter Conference 2016
Abbreviated titleRSAWINTER2016
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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