Australian Urban Planning: New Challenges, New Agendas

By Brendan Gleeson; Nicholas Low | Go to book overview
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Democratising planning: radical
cultural critiques

In this chapter we review another broad set of critiques that have challenged mainstream planning practice. For convenience we have grouped a large and rather diverse number of perspectives under the ‘radical cultural’ heading. We group them because, in spite of their theoretical and political diversity, these critiques are united by the attention they have given to the democratic shortcomings of planning and, more particularly, the tendency of state and private sector institutions to ignore the critical fact of cultural diversity. In short, the common concern of radical cultural perspectives is that social diversity is rarely reflected in planning policy and practice. Planning stands accused of ‘cultural blindness’, of having assumed that there are no significant sociocultural differences in ‘society’. For too long, it is claimed, planning has pursued an ideal—‘the public interest’—that simply does not exist in a society inevitably complicated by profound differences in cultural outlook, between individuals and groups.

Beyond these broad claims there are important differences, as we will show, between what we term ‘radical cultural’ perspectives. Not all, for example, entirely reject the idea of a public interest in planning. For some, recognition of social difference could become part of a reconstituted public interest—a flexible set of policy settings that would evolve over time as society itself changes. This reconstituted notion of ‘the public interest’ would provide a new political-ethical ideal for planning that values and nurtures the existence of different ‘publics’ as the basis for a healthy, cosmopolitan democracy.

The radical cultural critique of planning has been evident since at least the early 1960s, and unlike urban political economy was renewed and reinforced by theoretical developments in the late 1980s and during


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Australian Urban Planning: New Challenges, New Agendas


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