Planning Displacement: The Real Legacy of Major Sporting Events

By Libby Porter and others: [excerpt]

(…) In the official narrative ordinary citizens are, quite literally, invisible and Porter explains how this comes about. First, state planners deal in abstractions. This is a world of legacy claims, eminent domain and Compulsory Purchase Inquiries, where displacements are framed as “disruptions” in planning applications. These stories remind us about the extent to which the quality of and justice in policy making is influenced by the immense social distance between those who decide and those who are decided on. This, clearly, is not restricted to state planners lording over residents of disadvantaged neighbourhoods, but must be seen as a risk that affects all policy making that involves peripheral, marginal or “different” groups. The larger the social or cultural distance, the greater the institutional ignorance of decision makers about the target group as well as their willingness to base policies on assumptions ascribed to the target group. Becoming involved with the subjects of public policy is usually not a viable career path in public bureaucracies.

But Porter’s stories show us that residents do not merely disappear behind policy makers’ abstractions. Their living, experiential world is also actively distorted and denied. Here we see the willingness of public officials to lie, manipulate and obfuscate when one or another group stands in the way of their most cherished ideals. A diverse, well- integrated neighbourhood in London is portrayed as being in decay. An adjacent green space that is highly valued by residents is dismissed as useless “scrubland”. More sinister, is the dehumanization of homeless people in Vancouver who are harassed by the police and treated as criminals. And if the numbers, despite rigged surveys, tell a different story, you simply deny them. These are instances of “administrative evil” that Adams and Balfour have documented in their book: the inversion of the public ethos in the name of doing good (Adams & Balfour, 2009). The stories also tell us that we should not be too quick in throwing elitist policy theory overboard, as the collusion between city officials, developers and courts is as astonishing as it is disheartening. So, what does policy analysis, apart from political activism (not a bad choice in itself in the face of an unyielding state) have to offer by way of critical analysis against these instances of raw state power?

My answer would be to do what Porter does but in a more systematic manner: qualitative policy analysis (Danziger & Lin, 2000). Qualitative policy analysis is critical in the powerful sense of confronting one’s assumptions of the world with the resistances that the world presents upon a policy intervention. (…)

Read full article for free at Planning Theory & Practice – 2009, vol. 10 (3), pp. 395-418.

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