Neoliberal Planning

Authored by: Guy Baeten

The Routledge Handbook of Planning Theory

Print publication date:  August  2017
Online publication date:  August  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138905016
eBook ISBN: 9781315696072
Adobe ISBN:


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One could provocatively wonder whether neoliberal planning actually exists, since neither planning practitioners nor planning theorists commonly mobilize the term neoliberalism to capture the contemporary planning condition (Baeten, 2012a). At the same time, leading authors agree that neoliberalism remains a ‘keyword for the understanding of regulatory reforms of our time’ (Brenner et al., 2010), which would certainly include (the dismantling of) planning regulations. Neoliberal planning can be understood “as a restructuring of the relationship between private capital owners and the state, which rationalises and promotes a growth-first approach to urban development” (Sager, 2011). It is not a neatly defined set of policies, but rather a ‘restructuring ethos’ based on a strong belief in the virtues of the market and the limited possibilities of state intervention (Peet and Watts, 2004). For Springer (2010), neoliberalism simultaneously exists as a hegemonic ideology promoting the superiority of market solutions, as a policy that effectively increases the power of private actors in planning, and as governmentality: an ‘assemblage of rationalities, strategies, technologies, and techniques’ that allows neoliberal principles to rule in planning practices without major contestation. For Harvey (2005), neoliberalism is ultimately ‘the restoration of class power’ after the position of the financial and economic elites in the western world was threatened by socialism and high levels of state interference in the 1970s – an interpretation that gains credibility when observing the ‘birth’ of neoliberal planning in Chile and Britain during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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