The Embedded Developer: Using Project Ecologies to Analyse Local Property Development Networks

By Henneberry, John; Parris, Simon | The Town Planning Review, March 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

The Embedded Developer: Using Project Ecologies to Analyse Local Property Development Networks


Henneberry, John, Parris, Simon, The Town Planning Review


Institutional approaches to planning and development portray planners as members of networks of actors that constitute local property markets. Their market position affords planners the potential proactively to mould the capabilities of local development milieus. Theoretical frameworks have been developed to deal with the complexity of local development sectors. However, they lack sufficient detail to support in-depth research and analysis on a consistent basis or to allow close comparison of cases. A theoretical framework - project ecologies - is proposed to address this problem. It is consistent with extant institutional perspectives and can accommodate the heterogeneity of developers and development. It is applied to a detailed case study of an urban regeneration project. The paper considers the efficacy of the theoretical framework and the scope that it reveals for planners to influence developers' activities in their locales.

Keywords: project ecologies, property development, personal networks, urban milieus, planners' influence

In most developed, mixed economies '[p]lanners do not build cities and towns. Rather, they are built by private sector interests, developers in particular. In order to shape urban development, planners have to influence the actions of the[se] players' (Coiacetto, 2000, 353). However, consideration of the structure and behaviour of land and property markets and of the actors within those markets is relatively limited in the planning literature (Healey, 1998; 2006; Coiacetto, 2000; Adams and Tiesdell, 2010). Some suggest that this is, in part, a consequence of planners' conceptualisation of their own position, standing apart from the market and managing the actions of market actors (Faludi, 2000, cited in Adams and Tiesdell, 2010). Thus 'it is for planners to plan and the economy to adjust to the plan' (Evans, 2003, 528).

Such a stance, were it ever justifiable, is subject to increasing challenge. Following an 'institutional turn' in property research during the 1990s (Healey, 1998; Guy and Henneberry, 2000), the property market is increasingly viewed as a social construct: a web of market actors, such as developers, investors, occupiers and professional intermediaries, whose relations are influenced by the regulatory and policy environment. From this perspective, planners are themselves market actors. This has two fundamental consequences. First, planners cannot maintain that they are separate from the market. Second, it offers a more positive and proactive role for planners in the market:

If market behaviour is itself 'socially constructed' by the active work of networks of actors in the development and investment process, then planning policy has the opportunity to play a role in [...] an explicit strategy for moulding the institutional capabilities of the development industry in a locality. (Healey, 2006, 158, 151)

What support does the literature provide for those seeking to develop a more influential role for planners in land and property markets? Work in two fields is of most relevance: that relating to communicative planning, including more instrumental consideration of negotiation, and that relating to property development.

Communicative planning focuses on the role of the planner as a mediator among diverse interests (Fainstein, 2000). It draws on theories of rhetoric, argumentation, communication, negotiation and bargaining to show how planners might exploit their position by influencing the definition of problems, the management of information flows, the inclusion or exclusion of stakeholders, the form of the bargaining and negotiation processes and so on (see, for example, Forester, 1989; Healey, 2006). However, communicative planning is criticised for taking an 'insider's' view (Richardson, 1996). It fails sufficiently to acknowledge planners' position within a nexus of power and the implicit acceptance of the validity of expert knowledge, logic and action that results (McGuirk, 2001). …

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