Changing Role Of Planners in UK

Changing Role Of Planners in UK

Neoliberal ideology has undergone evolution over the years to gain its present influence which has changed the public policy in the UK and in specific the roles regarding market, state and individual policy. The changing role of planning may be discussed with reference to suburban growth and how the concept of suburbia has changed over the years (Peck, 2011, p. 889). In the past suburbs were created as less-than-urban centers where not much of significance took place and with bland politics and manicured lawns being the face of the region. A twist has occurred where now suburbia exhibits neoliberal thought through deregulation, spatial planning and decentralization (Gunder, 2010, p. 302). It is a new era in which neoliberal ideology has gained dominance hence economic development translating to more open, competitive as well as unregulated markets which are free from state interference.
The ideology of neoliberalism
Neoliberalism (a political philosophy) is the support of economic liberalization, unregulated trade, privatization, reduced regulation, and enhancement of private sector’s role in the society. The Neoliberalization process has become a catalyst and an expression of the present creative destruction taking place on political-economic space at various geographical scales. It is as if neoliberalism has become a collective form of liberalism which has combined classical liberalism with Keynesianism and theory of growth. Through the neoliberalization process the policy settings have changed hence influencing the role of planning. Government function for instance has changed to a decentralized, depoliticalized as well as agencified one (Jessop, 2000, p. 324). Privatism has set in and the common good has now been replaced by the priority of the client or the consumer. This means that the right of individuals to own specific things privately is recognized. The common interests are hence overshadowed by immediate interests of people.
Suburbia refers to suburbs collectively or those that inhabit them. A suburb is a residential region that exists as a part of an urban area or a city. Alternatively, a suburb may be viewed as a residential community that is situated separate from the city but within commuting distance of the same. It should be understood that neoliberalization is not a final state but a process that is subject to changes in ideology. The suburban concept of today is reflective of this evolved form of neoliberalism which is characterized by open-endedness, decentralization, privatization and practices that are market-oriented (Peck, 2011, p. 891). In the past, suburbia developed because of the desire of people to move from the big problems associated with big cities. It was departure from metropolitan planning and excessive regulation by municipal authorities. Suburbs were considered to be realization of self-rule in a naturalized form through establishment of a small government and residential migration that is tax-induced. Although neoliberalism does not promote seclusion, its philosophy supports principles that are in action in suburbs. Integrating neoliberalism and suburbia has resulted in a new form of suburbia that does not necessarily have to seclude the residential area but that seeks to transform city life from extreme regulation to deregulation, privatization and free trade among other changes.
Changing role of planners
Planners posed as visionaries or the pioneers of hope (Nelson, 2005). They help to reconcile the differing perspectives existent in the society. Prior to neoliberal dominance and the influence caused by its ideology, planners were considered apolitical technicians who held ‘neutral’ tools that enabled economic development without bias of exploitation of the public resources (Nelson, 2005, p. 64). They were social engineers and not focused on enterprise but the welfare of the society. Another role of planners is the acting as agents such that their partnership with state enhances the promotion of free markets. In planning, market is used to refer to land and property.

The support for municipal activities that was in the past promoted by the central government, now gets dismantled under neoliberal policy. As such, tasks are devolved and responsibilities and burdens are no longer shared between the central government and the municipality. Planners no longer serve as social engineers but instead promote entrepreneurism which is even rewarded through local incentives established by the municipalities. Rather than rely on the central government for funding, the municipalities seek revenue from local sources of revenue and given that private enterprises and other private finance instruments contribute to this revenue, privatization is promoted. This means that planners no longer work with the state to realize free markets but instead work with private enterprises to address the clients’ interests. This means that the planner does not seek to exert positive influence but rather hopes to employ their expertise to meet the objectives of their employer. In essence, the planner changes from being a visionary and a savior to being a perpetuator of the neoliberal ideology.

The planning framework changes from public housing and low rent residential structures to new interest in real estate markets. Emergency shelter which was existent in previous cities gets transformed to warehouses which accommodate the homeless. Construction subsidies that are project based get eliminated together with rent controls. In their place, market rents are created and in low-rent niches, the planners develop tenant-based vouchers. National space-economies become fragmented and in their place urban industrial systems are developed. Technopoles are created, industrial spaces are developed at a subnational scale and planners therefore adopt an economic development based agenda (Mishtal, 2010, p. 58). Rather than champion for the social development, planners now support revenue generation, increased investment and corporate consumption.

The planning role which previously appreciated occupation of urban public spaces now strives to eliminate these spaces or alternatively intensify their surveillance. The planner does not find working-class neighborhoods necessary and instead destroys these traditional structures aiming to create space for speculative redevelopment. The planner was previously a friend of the community and engaged in planning initiatives that were community-oriented. However, under neoliberal policy systems, this role of the planner is removed and planning initiatives now prioritize the interests of elites and corporate. Large scale megaprojects are created given that they attract investment from corporate entities (Mishtal, 2010, p. 58). Local land use patterns are hence reconfigured and creation of privatized spaces becomes an acceptable practice. The planning structure does not mix social reproduction with industrial space. Instead industrial space is developed separate from social reproduction centers. Social reproduction is allowed to occur in urban enclaves and gated communities, which are created as ‘purified’ spaces. These spaces are solely developed with the objective of promoting social reproduction. Planning decisions therefore are made based on the principle of ‘highest and best use’ regarding land use.
The rise of neoliberal governance
Neoliberal governance and its rise were founded on suburbanization dynamics which developed in the post war period under Keynesian thought (Allmendinger and Haughton, 2013, p. 18). Debate during the 19th century on liberalism focused on the negative nature of liberalism with critics considering it corrupted. Instead of acknowledging private voluntary arrangements, liberalism exhibited a tendency to seek intervention of the state with common terminologies in use being welfare and equality instead of what really needed to be addressed – freedom (Allmendinger and Haughton, 2013, p. 19). This was to change in the mid 20th century and by late 20th century the failures of urbanism created through Keynesian thought developed need for alterations on the perspective of people regarding liberalism (Allmendinger and Haughton, 2013, p. 19). The new ideology treated welfare and equality not as primary elements in liberalism but as alternatives to freedom hence resulting in policy changes regarding state intervention and eradication of classical liberalism. The change that has occurred over the centuries regarding liberalism is more pronounced when the economic rather than the political dimension is evaluated. Political changes are few including promotion of decentralized power and less focus on liberty.

Neoliberal vision has integrated post Keynesian ideology to result in the new face of liberalism which is in support of devolution, decentralized power and deregulation. It should be noted that natural factors have caused a new political environment to emerge where population density is high, uneven restructuring landscapes are common and metropolitan regions are under splintered governance regimes. It is perhaps this situation that has fueled the creation of new suburbs which are not just secluded centers characterized by large lawns and trees but that are now political units independent of government’s intervention and that utilize state powers to become distinguished residential and economic centers compared to the city. The independence established under neoliberalism now has influenced suburbia to detach itself from social and financial responsibility (Gleeson and Low, 2000, p. 8). This has been achieved through establishment of crabgrass governance in suburbia where political economies that are centrifugal have been made and exploited. Under this form of governance, the community perceives grassroots rule to be important and tailor their government to suit the needs of the citizens.
Critics of neoliberal suburbia
Neoliberal suburbia is a new form of suburbia that has incorporated neoliberal principles such as deregulation, privatization, free trade as well as open markets. It is the belief of libertarians that the logic and rational of suburbia is wrong given that the entire system is characterless and the space planning is antisocial. It is their view that the best thing is for people to adjust to the metro-cosmopolitan lifestyle where residents live in urban townhouses that are situated off the busy streets, they have no yards, are full of shops as well as restaurant and these enterprises can easily be accessed since they are placed within walking distance from homes. However, this criticism is stated by supporters of suburban neoliberalism as a concealed attack that is aimed at eliminating deregulation and free markets by biased politicians and technocrats (Gunder, 2010, p. 304).

Further criticism on suburbia and suburban development argues that it impacts on food security and other natural resources such as air, water quality and wildlife. The seclusion and independence created under neoliberal suburbanism is also cited to result in social alienation, higher taxes and low wages (Lai, 2008, p. 262). In fact, higher taxes are a factor that has been used frequently by elected officials who oppose housing growth. They express that this lower density and sprawling development results in increased government expenditure hence necessitating taxes to be increased.

Although criticism has been directed at neoliberal suburbanism, there are those who defend the ideology and refer to the positive elements of the ideology including the small-government solutions which are considered effective and consumer sovereignty which promotes economic growth and positive development. Neoliberalism is appropriate in limiting bureaucratic planning which is centralized and regulated highly. It is obvious that big cities develop and introduce big problems such as congestion, poverty, unionization of government administrations and dilution of voter power (Lai, 2008, p. 262). It is appropriate to have intervention measures like land utilization which is practiced in neoliberalization and introduction of economic efficiency.
Neoliberalization (spaces of the ideology applied to cities)
Cities presently are developed in a geoeconomic environment that is very uncertain and that exhibits elements such as monetary chaos, speculations regarding financial capital changes as well as interlocality competition that is intensifying at a very rapid rate. The disorder spreads from local settings to the global scale. Many local governments consequently have experienced constraints as they attempt to adjust to the rising levels of economic uncertainty, resolving the uncertainty with short-term interspatial competition and undercutting of regulation so that investments and jobs can be attracted.

There are those cities that have adopted neoliberal programs to deal with the above problems. This has been achieved through ‘interiorization’ of neoliberal programs into policy regimes for urban centers (Viswanathan, 2010, p. 271). The move is a form of territorial alliance that is projected to rejuvenate local economies through a shock treatment strategy. Enhanced fiscal austerity is part of this shock treatment. The policy experiments being performed target cities especially suburban peripheries. Examples of these neoliberal policy experiments are tax abatements for local geographies, partnership between public and private sectors, place-marketing and social control strategies. The primary idea in this neoliberal policy is to mobilize city space so that this space is utilized as platform for economic growth that is market oriented and where elite consumption practices are performed. Although highly effective in rejuvenating local economies, the new policies are found to be partially destructive. Majorly, though, neoliberal policy is highly creative and open to independent practice.
Evolution of neoliberal policy
The neoliberal policy was initially deployed in the late 1970s in the United Kingdom. In the initial stages of ‘proto-neoliberalism’ cities and urban centers were targeted and in the economic dislocations that occurred, struggles ensued between proponents and opponents (Arampatzi and Nicholls, 2012, p. 2598). Further struggle was evident in different types of sociopolitical struggles. Collective consumption gained prominence politically and there was a perspective that this new approach reflected urban phenomenon under capitalist ideology. Modernizing alliances found themselves struggling with preservationists regarding the appropriate form of economic restructuring that should occur especially given the challenges faced in the post war regime. In the agreement established, neoliberal policy was only adopted in stages with local economic initiatives got adopted in older industrial centers aiming to renew growth although this was performed while maintaining sociopolitical settlements.
Spatial planning
The role of planning on a general scale today boils down to spatial governance influenced by neoliberal policy. The governance discourse is a representation of a specific ‘art of government’ which has roots in liberal concept regarding the state. Political consensus is stressed, accommodation is mutual and problems are solved in a collective mechanism. The space of power is applied in politics where partnerships are promoted and self-rule is practiced. Spatial planning is considered to have gained root in modern urban centers based on necessities such as ecological and economic ones. Rationality and logic are replaced with market-oriented, revenue focused and private-enterprization. Planning as well as economics are some of the elements that are calculated through rational mechanisms (Roberts, 2003, p. 872).

The dilemma develops regarding the new role of planners. Now acting as brokers, and sometimes facilitators, the planners target to redeem themselves by facilitating consensus-based strategies in decision making. This redemption is sought by planners given their failures in the past. Earlier phases of interventionism by planners resulted in political backlash since their strategy bore negative results. The 1980s too marked an era of failure by planners who contributed to failure of pro-market planning. The newest planning role under the new spatial planning orthodoxy calls for associational networks and planning through collaborative mechanisms (Kaup, 2010, p. 129). The neoliberal planner will now prioritize shared understanding in land-use. He is a partner of the municipality and the private sector. He is a facilitator of consensus or a broker of the same. The planning profession is not an independent institution but one that depends on other institutions like the government and the private sector.
The role of planning has changed. The decentralization, deregulation and privatization that have been introduced by neoliberal policy have contributed to this change. Planners were originally saviors, social engineers and visionaries but now they seek to facilitate consensus. They act as partners with the state and the private entities given that self-rule is promoted and revenue is obtained from local sources of revenue. Since private investment is one means of gaining revenue, the local government therefore promotes privatization and planners are expected to work with these groups to realize the new objectives. The suburban image that was in the past perceived to be a form of seclusion and widely recognized as a center characterized by manicured lawns and tress has now changed under neoliberal policy.

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Viswanathan L., 2010, Contesting racialization in a neoliberal city: cross-cultural collective formation as a strategy among alternative social planning organizations in Toronto, Geojournal, 75(3): 261 – 272


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