Collaborative Visioning or Urban Planning as Therapy? The Politics of Public-Private Policy Making
One aspect of a recent restructuring of urban economies, societies, and spaces has been a change in urban planning practice. Planning is increasingly privatized and decentralized in U.S. cities. Private planning consultants are often hired by public-private coalitions in order to shape the future of cities, while the planning processes they institute are frequently claimed to be consensus-based, collaborative, and inclusionary, rather than elite-centered and expert-driven. This paper discusses the use of “visioning”—an increasingly popular technique that develops goals for the future of a city through consensus-based meetings, open to all parties—as developed by New Century Lexington, a public-private planning initiative in Lexington, Kentucky. It argues that: (1) new public-private planning procedures, incorporating collaborative techniques, frequently become the institutional sites of political struggle over how future urban geographies are produced; (2) in order to understand the role of visioning in contemporary urban politics and in policy making outcomes, we must recognize the sociospatial context in which it is deployed; and (3) in the case of New Century, the way in which local elites controlled the mechanics of the visioning process made dissent difficult and, therefore, produced a vision of the future largely parallel to their standard economic development models.