Making Planning Popular

Doctoral research exploring the relationship between English public planning and wider society, with a focus on online discourse and knowledge exchange.

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Making Planning Popular explores the extent to which the design of new forms of online communication platform might enable a more mutual, agonistic relationship between popular discourse and public planning in England. Building upon an analysis of extant ‘planning’ discourse on popular online forums in the UK, a process of research through design led to a prototype platform, Building Rights, which provides a provisional test of how such a relationship might be created and reinforced online, in a manner that builds on the sympathies and practices already present in the popular domain.

By failing to address the dichotomy between planning and the popular, the promise of a wider citizen engagement in public planning made in the era of Localism (for instance DCLG, 2012A: 6) has not been fulfilled, both on its own terms and in the context of a wider societal rejection of extant models of representative democracy. Meanwhile, recent critiques of contemporary public planning and of the democratic project in which it sits, such as in the work of Colin Ward, Leonie Sandercock and Chantal Mouffe, strongly suggest that a more mutual, agonistic relationship between planning and its ‘people’ is not only possible but desirable. 

Can the planning system, or part of it, be reconceptualised as an ‘open’, ‘agonistic’ political space in which the role of the public is as vital as the role of the trained professional? Can the emerging paradigm of the ‘collaborative’ planner be fulfilled or expanded upon by exposure to the popular? Can the paradigm shift represented by the ever-increasing significance of social media, and new forms of design, be used to aid in these transformations?

This research firstly explores contemporary popular on-line discourse related to building activity and built environment decision-making in order to explore how the English public currently relate to and understand the planning system, and the terms through which ‘planning discourse’ is actually undertaken using social media and online discourse platforms. In parallel, a design research practice led to the development of a prototype digital platform, Building Rights. To test this prototype, a charrette (a design workshop wherein the on-line life of the platform could be simulated and tested) was staged, the results from which form an analysis of the potential and limitations of such platforms in reconnecting English public planning with its public.

Making Planning Popular is the first investigation of popular online discourse concerning public planning, the first to explore popular perceptions of public planning within social media and online discourse, and the first to test the role of the designer in expanding the significance of that discourse in the transformation of the built environment. 

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