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This special section examines the possibility of meaningful debate and contestation over urban decisions and futures in politically constrained contexts. In doing so, it moves with the post‐political times: critically examining the proliferation of deliberative mechanisms; identifying the informal assemblages of diverse actors taking on new roles in urban socio‐spatial justice; and illuminating the spaces where informal and formal planning processes meet. These questions are particularly pertinent for understanding the processes shaping Australian cities and public participation today.
Special Section Planning the Post-Political City Part I
Planning the post-political city: exploring public
participation in the contemporary Australian city
Crystal Legacy,
*Nicole Cook,
Dallas Rogers,
and Kristian Ruming
Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria,
School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, The University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New
South Wales, Australia
School of Architecture, Design and Planning, The University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales,
Department of Geography and Planning, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
*Corresponding author: Email:
Received 20 March 2018 Revised 26 March 2018 Accepted 3 April 2018
This special section examines the possibility of meaningful debate and contestation
over urban decisions and futures in politically constrained contexts. In doing so, it
moves with the post-political times: critically examining the proliferation of deliber-
ative mechanisms; identifying the informal assemblages of diverse actors taking on
new roles in urban socio-spatial justice; and illuminating the spaces where informal
and formal planning processes meet. These questions are particularly pertinent for
understanding the processes shaping Australian cities and public participation today.
Keywords post-politics; participation; governance; Australian cities; urban
Cities and the public
What scope is there for genuine debate over the
future of Australian cities? A burgeoning body
of research gathered under the rubric of the
post-political cityis prompting the question of
whether and how meaningful debate about the fu-
ture of cities can occur in liberal democracies such
as Australia. Situated within wider debates about
the quality of politics in contemporary decision-
making practices, post-political theorists caution
that consensus-based planning in particular limits
policy, action, and debate about the social and
environmental injustices taking shape in cities.
Works by Mouffe (2000, 2005), Rancière (1998),
and Žižek (1999) have set the tone for this late
twentieth century post-foundationalist philosophy,
highlighting the costs of consensus politics
and suggesting that liberal democracies have
entered a phase of post-democratisation; the
latter described by Swyngedouw (2011) as the dis-
appearance of the political as a structuring agent in
society. Some of the rst urban scholars to engage
with this post-foundationalist thinking aligned
the post-political city with the inuence of
neoliberalism on public participation and urban
governance and thereby revealed the many ways
in which public opinion was solicited and aggre-
gated to the detriment of practices that would
nurture political diversity and meaningful
debate (Osterlynck & Swyngedouw, 2010;
Swyngedouw, 2009, 2014).
In Australian cities, urban planning over the past
30 years has increasingly aligned with the princi-
ples of neoliberalism (Gleeson & Low, 2000). This
alignment has occurred almost in parallel with
movements away from expert-led planning
towards consensual collaborative planning and
decision-making inspired by theories of communi-
cative rationality (Innes, 1995). These shifts
precipitated concerns that new practices in consen-
sus-based planning could not fully accommodate
diverse subjectivities, nor address the power
asymmetries that were reinforced through
Geographical Research May 2018 56(2), 176180
neoliberal planning (Purcell, 2009). Recognising
these limits, Allmendinger and Haughton (2012)
have argued that privileging consensus-building
without critically reecting on its relationship to
public protest (when it occurs) may prevent us
from seeing the different ways consensus-building
seeks to continuously displace conict in planning.
Post-political theorists claim that formal,
state-created processes and spaces for participation
increasingly offer no grounds for actual public
debate, nor legitimate spaces for contestation
(Metzger, Allmendinger, & Oosterlynck, 2015;
Purcell, 2009; Rancière, 1998; Swyngedouw,
2009). As a result, debates about the future of the
Australian city are not limited to ofcial planning
fora but instead extend beyond state-mandated
participatory planning to include public-created
spaces. We contend that in these spaces the
negative impacts of planning are politicised.
The post-political Australian city
In recent years, Australian cities have witnessed
large-scale resident-led political campaigns
targeting what those residents see as growing
injustices in urban landscapes. Distorted by
the pressure of neoliberalism, urban planning
processes have decentred social equity and envi-
ronmental sustainability by privileging economic
rationality, competition, and privatisation. The
construction of toll roads in Brisbane and more
recently in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth has
exposed the impact of these decisions on people.
Present resistance campaigns are motivated by
the mantra that cities are for people and not
solely for producing prot, mirroring others
from the 1970s, including the now famous Green
Bans resistance in Sydney (Burgmann &
Burgmann, 1998) and the anti-freeway cam-
paigns in Melbourne (Legacy, this issue). But,
directly or subtly, present campaigns galvanise
against both the impacts of unfettered
neoliberalisation of cities and its governance,
and the loss of public control of the city and
its processes.
This observation is not intended to suggest that
city planners have abandoned efforts to engage
the public in planning their neighbourhoods,
municipalities, and metropolitan regions. On the
contrary, there have been many best practice
engagement techniques applied by those working
in all tiers of government to enable public partici-
pation over the past two decades: the Western
Australian Governments attempts in the early
2000s to design large-town hall meetings based
on the principles of deliberative democracy
(Perth), or attempts to engage citizen jury
processes in city budgeting exercises (Canada
Bay; City of Melbourne) or to develop a long-term
infrastructure strategy (Infrastructure Victoria).
This is a considerable shift from the primacy of
the expert-led, technocratic plans of the twentieth
century to a comparatively more inclusive
approach to planning now. Nevertheless, there is
a perception that there are few opportunities to
ask fundamental questions about the future of
cities, or the allocation of resources, or the distribu-
tion of goods and services. It is such questions that
attract opposition campaigns and movements,
especially when they remain unanswered, or when
prompted because negative externalities and lost
opportunity costs reveal themselves over time.
It is notable that as these shifts precipitate
greater levels of intergenerational inequity, intense
speculative development, and social cleansing in
diverse neighbourhoods, consultation strategies
have proliferated and failed (Darcy & Rogers,
2014). For example, the compact city has
remained a planning orthodoxy across a succes-
sion of metropolitan strategic planning documents
in Australian capital cities but with very little
understanding of who benets from this urban
form and who and what is lost. It is in this context
that numerous scholars have declared a crisis of
participatory planningin which this mode of
engagement is rendered void of critical substance
and inuence (Darcy & Rogers, 2014; Legacy,
2016: Legacy & van den Nouwelant, 2015;
Monno & Khakee, 2012, Ruming, 2014a,
2014b). A consensus politicsgenerated in
deliberative planning approaches and among the
organisations and institutions of liberal democra-
cies actually evades confrontational and challeng-
ing public discourses about how the city is
constituted and re-created, for whom, and by
whom. Instead, formal state-led processes of city
planning set out clearly dened sites for public
engagement within which participationmight
occur, and these may limit broader expressions of
engaged citizenship.
Despite limited conditions for formal public
participation, agonistic traditions of democratic
participationincluding urban protest and activ-
ismcontinue to punctuate planning decisions
through informal, collective, grassroots action or
through focused, sometimes site-specic, opposi-
tional campaigns (Iveson, 2014). Outside formal
decision-making arenas, urban residents are
establishing new spaces to pursue their politics
(McAuliffe & Rogers, this issue). Beyond street
C. Legacy et al., Planning the post-political city 177
© 2018 Institute of Australian Geographers
protests, blockades, and social media campaigns,
conict is expressed in the social patterns and
population structures forming a central element
of urban (political) change in Australia. This
change can be observed by reference to the
techniques and strategies by which residents,
non-experts, and communities orient planning
and political processes to locally desired
outcomes (Cook et al., 2013; Ruming, Houston,
& Amati, 2012).
Recognising the resurgence of liberal and
market values in Australian cities, this special sec-
tion examines the possibility of meaningful debate
and contestation over urban decisions and futures
in politically constrained contexts. In doing so, it
moves with the post-political times: critically
examining the proliferation of deliberative mecha-
nisms; identifying the informal assemblages of
diverse actors that are taking on new roles in urban
socio-spatial justice; and illuminating the spaces
where informal and formal planning processes
meet. These questions are particularly pertinent in
understanding the processes shaping Australian
cities and public participation today.
Public participation in the post-political
Australian city: a new research agenda
Metzger et al. (2015) and Rancière (1998) ask,
respectively, in what ways is public participation
in planning politicaland how can resident action
be used to counter these post-political tendencies?
One of the challenges faced by the advocates of all
political and social movements is the question of
their effectiveness over time: whether they make
a differenceand, if they do become popular,
whether they become diluted and compromised?
Rather than present informal action as an either/
or proposition, the papers in this special section
highlight the importance of asking how informal
action reshapes and challenges the boundaries of
what is possible in the post-political city. How
does informal planning action render new trajecto-
ries and pathways of urban development both open
and more visible? What organisations, practices,
and resources exist in cities through which a new
politics can be advanced? How representative
are these groups of the city more broadly? Is it
the case that the question is not how many people
are represented here, but what is being said?
Perhaps, in the end, the most important feature of
informal planning movements is not their size,
but their unique capacity to articulate urban futures
that embrace a philosophy of equity within uncer-
tain social and environmental futures. To these
ends, the question of what can be learnt from
the experimental and visionary nature of urban
planning movements and contemporary political
movements is a scholarly question whose time
has come.
The opening paper by Kristian Ruming exam-
ines the political struggle characterising a large
urban regeneration project in Newcastle, New
South Wales. Tracing efforts by state planning
agencies to generate consensus about the need for
inner city regeneration, Ruming asks how these
efforts were destabilised by resident activists who
mobilised an alternative urban vision. His work
reveals the emergence of consensus about the need
for regeneration as opposed to consensus around
the (material) form of regeneration. The paper
illustrates how opponentsefforts to destabilise
consensus claims made by the state can recong-
ure the future city. Examples of where urban
residents have stepped outside the formalised
practices of public consultation to protest, as
in the case in Newcastle, have become common
practice in transport infrastructure planning in
Australian cities.
Crystal Legacy then analyses the establishment
of Infrastructure Victoria, providing an empirical
account of how infrastructure planning responds
to public mobilisation in transport over time.
Drawing together literature on transport politics
and post-politics, she examines the relationship
between public protest and the formal practices
of engagement and concludes that, in sitting in
relation to each other, they produce ever more
savvy ways in which dissensus and consensus
processes co-create each other.
Andrew Butt and Elizabeth Taylor show that
public participation can also be interventionist.
While exercised outside of public submission,
exhibition, and strategic plan-making processes,
these resistance efforts are motivated by people
seeking to change planning outcomes, if not
urban practices more broadly. Focusing on
the urban fringe, they investigate the conict
that characterised the establishment of intensive
broilerpoultry production in peri-urban
Melbourne. Here, Butt and Taylor mobilise
Mouffes problematisation of the negotiation of
antagonism and Rancières ideas about the risk
of a false consensus democracy to highlight
critical issues of participatory planning. They
argue that alternative politics emerges in re-
sponse to changing understanding of place, the
status of peri-urban regions, and ethical issues
associated with intensive farming, despite an ap-
parent consensus around the agricultural identity
Geographical Research May 2018 56(2), 176180178
© 2018 Institute of Australian Geographers
of peri-urban regions and the presence of a
code-based planning system.
The papers assembled in this special section
throw new light on the under-analysed elements
of post-political theoryincluding the unchart-
ered geographies of agonism and activism through
which the alternative planning pathways discussed
by Butt and Taylor emerge. To this end, Cameron
McAuliffe and Dallas Rogers respond to Mouffes
call to move beyond a limited consensus politics,
which serves to re-enforce post-political processes
and perpetuate the urban agenda of an entrenched
urban elite. They test Mouffes theory empirically
to see if the transition from antagonism to agonism
is possible in Sydney. Mouffe contends that
traditional antagonisms between enemiesneed
to be moderated to a more mutual adversarial
position, and McAuliffe and Rogers deploy these
ideas to investigate how resident groups and urban
alliances engage with the post-political city, in
the face of recongured urban governance and
regulatory frameworks.
The resident-led processes discussed by
Ruming and Legacy show that there is an appetite
among people to ask questions that planning
has foreclosed from public viewnamely, what
is the future of the city and what interventions
and urban governance arrangements are necessary
to ensure that this future remains in public
ownership? This question forms the focus of
Heather MacDonalds question has planning been
de-democratised in Sydney?In her paper,
MacDonald confronts the ongoing reconguration
of urban governance and regulatory frameworks
outlined in the paper by McAuliffe and Rogers.
MacDonald argues that recent attempts by the
New South Wales Government at planning reform,
council amalgamation, and the advent of a new
metropolitan commission emerge as an (evolving)
neoliberal effort to streamline development and
de-democratise planning. Yet such efforts are
contested by some urban residents, and the impacts
of these initiatives remain uncertain, at least in
terms of development approval and economic
performance. The capacity of state planning
agencies to secure consensus using reformed
planning frameworks emerges as inherently
In short, this collection of papers raises new
questions for the study of politics and public
participation in the Australian city. The papers
extend post-political research by engaging with
Australian urban contexts where planning authori-
ties struggle against powerful national logics of
property speculation and accumulation yet nd
support from social and political movements for
more democratic planning policies and practices.
Allmendinger, P. and Haughton, G., 2012. Post-political spatial
planning in England: a crisis of consensus? Transactions of
the Institute of British Geographers, 37(1), pp.89103.
Burgmann, M. and Burgmann, V., 1998. Green Bans, Red
Union: Environmental Activism and the New South Wales
Builders LabourersFederation. Sydney, Australia: UNSW
Cook, N., Taylor, E.J. and Hurley, J., 2013. At home with
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Darcy, M.and Rogers, D., 2014. Inhabitance, place-making and
the right to the city: public housing redevelopment in Sydney.
International Journal of Housing Policy, 14(3), pp.23656.
Gleeson, B. and Low, N., 2000. Australian Urban Planning:
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Innes, J.E., 1995. Planning theorys emerging paradigm:
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Iveson, K., 2014. Building a city for The People: the politics of
alliance-building in the Sydney Green Ban Movement.
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Legacy, C., 2016. Transforming transport planning in the
postpolitical era. Urban Studies, 53(14), pp.3018124.
Legacy, C. and van den Nouwelant, R., 2015. Negotiating
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governancein infrastructure planning. Environment and
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Metzger, J., Allmendinger, P. and Oosterlynck, S., eds., 2015.
Planning against the Political: Democratic Decits in
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Monno, V. and Khakee, A., 2012. Tokenism or political
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Mouffe, C., 2000. The Democratic Paradox. London, U.K:
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Osterlynck, S. and Swyngedouw, E., 2010. Noise reduction: the
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Purcell, M., 2009. Resisting neoliberalization: communicative
planning or counter-hegemonic movements? Planning
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Rancière, J., 1998. Disagreement. Minneapolis: University of
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community opposition in Sydney, Australia: unpacking
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Ruming, K., 2014b. Social mix discourse and local resistance to
social housing: the case of the nation building economic stim-
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Ruming, K., Houston, D. and Amati, M., 2012. Multiple subur-
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© 2018 Institute of Australian Geographers
... Following Erik Swyngedouw's (2007) account of the "post-political city," urban scholars have criticized how regimes of neoliberal urban power and managerial governance exclude, occlude, suffocate, or colonize the political. A variety of empirical case studies have demonstrated how post-political urban governance has been contested by civic stakeholders and alliances (see Davidson and Iveson, 2014;Holden, 2011;Legacy, 2016;Legacy et al., 2018;McClymont, 2011;Millington, 2016;Oosterlynck and Swyngedouw, 2010). Crystal Legacy (2016) examines a contentious transport planning process in Melbourne, in which citizen initiatives questioned a seemingly "done deal" and thus broad the precarious nature of post-political consensus to the fore. ...
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Our age is celebrated as the triumph of liberal democracy. Old ideological battles have been decisively resolved in favour of freedom and the market. We are told that we have moved 'beyond left and right'; that we are 'all in this together'. Any remaining differences are to be addressed through expert knowledge, consensual deliberation and participatory governance. Yet the 'end of history' has also been marked by widespread disillusion with mainstream politics and a rise in nationalist and religious fundamentalisms. And now an explosion of popular protests is challenging technocratic regulation and the power of markets in the name of democracy itself. This collection makes sense of this situation by critically engaging with the influential theory of 'the post-political' developed by Chantal Mouffe, Jacques Rancière, Slavoj Žižek and others. Through a multi-dimensional and fiercely contested assessment of contemporary depoliticisation, The Post-Political and Its Discontents urges us to confront the closure of our political horizons and re-imagine the possibility of emancipatory change. © editorial matter and organisation Japhy Wilson and Erik Swyngedouw, 2014. the chapters their several authors, 2014.
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Under a variety of generic names like Occupy!, Indignados, the Outraged, and others, a wave of deeply political protest is rolling through the world’s cities, whereby those who do not count demand a new constituent process for producing space politically. The heterogeneous urban gatherers are outraged by and expose the variegated ‘wrongs’ and spiralling inequalities of autocratic neo-liberalization and actually-existing instituted democratic governance. The celebrated era of urban social movements as the horizon of progressive urban struggles seems to be over. A much more politicized if not radical mobilization, animated by insurgent urban architects, is increasingly choreographing the contemporary theatre of urban politicized struggle and conflict. It is precisely the aftermath of such urban insurrections that provides the starting point for the arguments developed in this chapter. From a radical political perspective, the central question that has opened up, after the wave of insurgencies of the past few years petered out, revolves around what to do and what to think next. Is there further thought and practice possible after the squares are cleared, the tents broken up, the energies dissipated, and everyday life resumes its routine practices?
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This paper explores participatory planning approaches in the context of owner-occupiers' opposition to policies and practices of residential densification in suburban neighbourhoods. Drawing on a case study from Melbourne, it shows that residents value lower-density homes for a range of (interrelated) economic, social and practical reasons. While these attachments to home help to explain opposition to policies and practices of residential densification, they also contribute to a range of ‘everyday’ territorialisations that unsettle formal processes of border-making associated with compact city planning. The paper concludes by highlighting the challenges that tensions between housing and home generate, in terms of participatory planning approaches in the context of residential densification.
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This article brings Lefebvre's Right to the City thesis into conversation with Bauman's notion of the flawed consumer to account for the neoliberal colonisation of public tenant organising in urban redevelopment. Drawing on a case study of public housing redevelopment from Sydney, Australia, we show that neoliberal community building and the emergence of professional community builders obviate the self-organising efforts of tenants. In this case tenants’ rights were attenuated when the housing authority invited private capital to not only rebuild the physical fabric but also remake the social relations around public tenancy within the trope of consumerism. We argue for a revival of tenant self-organising as a collective political project that might counteract the individualisation of tenants’ rights under neoliberal community building regimes. Such a political project needs to be extended beyond the boundaries of the local neighbourhood or ‘housing estate’ to expose the strategies at work in public housing redevelopment projects. Drawing on Right to the City we argue that inhabitance should confer the right to participate in place-making. We conclude that tenant self-organising is one way that tenants imagine, collectively construct and inhabit lived space; it is a process of meaning- and place-making amongst a community with a shared experience of contemporary urban transformation.
Since September 11th, we frequently hear that political differences should be put aside: the real struggle is between good and evil. What does this mean for political and social life? Is there a ‘Third Way’ beyond left and right, and if so, should we fear or welcome it?
From the theory of "deliberative democracy" to the politics of the "third way," the present Zeitgeist is characterised by an attempt to negate the inherently conflictual nature of democratic politics. Political thought and practice are stifled by a misconceived search fro consensus and the promotion of a bland social unanimity which, as Chantal Mouffe shows, far from being the sign of progress, constitute a serious threat for democratic institutions. Indeed, in many countries this 'consensus of the centre' is providing a platform for the growth of populist right-wing parties which, by presenting themselves as the only 'anti-establishment' forces, are trying to occupy the terrain of contestation deserted by the left. Taking issue with the work of John Rawls and Jurgen Habermas on one side, and with the tenets of the third way as practised by Tony Blair and theorised by Anthony Giddens on the other, Mouffe brings to the fore the paradoxical nature of modern liberal democracy. Against those who affirm that, with the demise of the left/right divide, antagonism has been eliminated from contemporary post-industrial societies and that an all-inclusive politics has become possible, she argues that the category of the 'adversary' plays a central role in the very dynamics of modern democracy. Drawing on the work of Wittgenstein and Derrida, and engaging with the provocative theses of Carl Schmitt, she proposes a new understanding of democracy in terms of 'agonistic pluralism' which acknowledges the ineradicability of antagonism and the impossibility of a final resolution of conflicts.
The aim of this paper is to examine how the postpolitical era of planning has created both binaries and intersections in the reimaging of transport futures and how the latter precipitates a redefinition of democratic transport prioritisation. Focusing particularly on the point in the transport planning process when urban transport priorities are identified, the paper explores how citizens respond to the inherently political, yet not always democratic, aspects of setting transport investment priorities. This relationship is investigated through a single case study of Melbourne, Australia where a six km inner city road tunnel was deemed a ‘done deal’ by elected officials in the lead up to a state election, removing the controversial project from open public scrutiny. Drawing upon ethnographic research and semi-structured interviews with community campaigners opposing the proposed East West Link road tunnel, this analysis reveals how community-based groups and individual residents alike can evolve beyond NIMBY-focused agitation to garner a spatially dispersed re-politicisation of urban transport priorities. While the postpolitical framing of infrastructure delivery introduces a binary between state interventionist planning and citizen opposition, it is the mobilisation of action through the spaces of intersection where new political paradigms for transport planning are created.
Strategic planning can begin as a deliberative and inclusive process of plan making, but then transition into a decisive and exclusive process of investment and priority setting at the stage of implementation. Citizens who once participated in the formal plan making process through government-designed engagement events fade into the background in this critical latter part of strategic planning. At this point they must invent avenues to influence investment priorities. In the context of bicycle infrastructure planning and delivery in Sydney, Australia this paper examines how strategic plans that embrace cycling as an important transport mode translate into decisions to commit to some projects over others. The paper explores four ways community groups seek traction in a highly contentious and transitional space of planning through a process we call ‘guerrilla governance’. Evoking aspects of advocacy and insurgent planning, guerrilla governance broadens how the term ‘governance’ is used within urban planning scholarship, by incorporating such ‘legitimised’ agitation from beyond government.