New modes of spatial planning

JustDe studies how new strategic spatial planning practices affect interpretations of transparency, legitimacy and justice in public decision making. Our starting point is that even though these new governance-oriented practices are fulfilling a perceived need, they also mark a substantial change that brings up serious questions concerning the justification of societal decision making. We ask what kind of operational modes become acceptable in the public sector – and why?

A Comparative study between Nordic countries

Agreement-based planning practices are examples of new types of strategic planning principles and public-public partnerships. The Finnish government has initiated two frameworks of agreements, on land use, housing and transport (MAL Agreements) and on economic development (Growth Agreements), with the major urban regions. In Norway, two contractual frameworks aim at combatting similar city-regional issues in the largest urban regions. Similarly, the Swedish government applies two agreement formulas. What is common to all is their parallel and only partly complementary nature in relation to formal planning systems.

What and how do we study?

We focus on three, interlaced analytical dimensions of justification of agreement-based practices:

  1. the definitions of relevant actors,
  2. the definitions of legitimate knowledge base, and
  3. the definitions of the political nature of planning.

We use both quantitative and qualitative analyses to study how elected representatives, civil servants and citizens interpret agreement-based practices in spatial planning. We also conduct policy document analysis concerning the content and the knowledge base of the agreements.

Our hypothesis: towards new interpretations of democracy?

Agreement-based approaches in spatial planning, while defining actors based on relations, issues and situations, and swiftly crossing administrative territories, utilize seemingly technocratic inclusion and exclusion that, in reality, is deeply political. Nevertheless, in the absence of clear legitimacy of such approaches, the actors are forced to justify themselves through indirect attachment to territorially defined representative democracy and institutional administrative structures. This incoherence of action defines the justification of societal decision making in a manner that does not fulfill the preconditions of either representative or direct democracy.

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