Planning with Civicness: Grounding the Public Interest Rationale for the Planning Profession

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Embargoed until 2021-12-16
Copyright: Shepherd, Richard
Within the planning profession, the public interest is enshrined as a core rationale for practice even as academic literature continues to question the existence and function of this rationale. Concrete outcomes of the public interest are rarely considered in planning structures and processes, resulting in the perception that the term is a tangential, or lip-service, consideration within the profession. A lack of explicit acknowledgement can be contrasted with consideration of the concept of ‘civicness’ – arguably a more tangible indicator of public interest concerns within the profession. This research focuses on how the planning system approaches ‘civicness’, exploring how this can be read discursively as representative of a contextualised public interest. Drawing on the paradigmatic framework of Habermas and Foucault, both utopian and cynical representations of the public interest are challenged. Discourse analysis techniques, particularly a dialectic Critical Discourse Analysis framework, are used to critically explore key civic concepts as they relate to planning, considering broader contextual themes and rendering conceptions of ‘the public interest’ as legible and interpretable. Australian urban civic conceptions are explored, with the city of Newcastle (New South Wales) as context owing to its scale and history within the state, its contemporary reinvention following decades of ‘Steel City’ neglect and economic malaise, and its unmistakable manifestations of ‘civicness’ in institutions, processes and designed/material outcomes. Applying the Critical Discourse Analysis framework to three case studies – Newcastle City Council, the preparation of the Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan 2036, and Newcastle’s ‘Civic Precinct’ – the research is then utilised to explore a specific representation of action toward and manifestations of ‘civicness’. This in turn contributes to the legibility of public interest manifestations in differing scales of planning practice and within broader, more theoretical, paradigms. While more exploratory than definitive, this thesis proposes that considering ‘civicness’ within the urban environment is a means by which to contextualise and ground the public interest within planning, ensuring this key professional and theoretical rationale retains its relevance and richness in an increasingly complex and challenging planning environment.
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Shepherd, Richard
Freestone, Robert
Pinnegar, Simon
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PhD Doctorate
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