Ok, I am going to have to admit to being a little bit of a Tore Sager fangirl because I pretty much love everything they write and everything they write about and the way they write about it and am really jealous that I didn’t write all the things they did. Like every single time they publish a thing, I’m sad I didn’t write it because it’s so good and important. So now that the introductory breathless fangirling is out of the way, let’s get to the breathless fangirling about the actual content.
Planning has a problem with democracy; not that planners themselves are anti-democratic or pro-democratic themselves, it’s just that planning as a field relies on its legitimacy to no small degree via the notion that we can help foster a deliberative, democratic decision-making about place futures. The problem we have is that democracies can do terrible things, and that plenty of democratic preferences are really shitty. Lots people in neighborhoods want to keep people out, and that is a democratic preference, and it’s generally not a good a good one. (sometimes it’s warranted, other times it is just an impulse to maintain privilege.)
Sager speaks directly to our times with a discussion of what planners should be doing to refute the Schmittian authoritarian populism that has swept across multiple nations, including my own, with things like Trumpism. Trumpism is avowedly anti-urban, and we owe its adherents no deference just because they hold their preferences with passion or because they have coalesced into a political force.
This is in some ways not a happy or hopeful paper, but it is a VERY useful paper for understanding the profession in our current political context.
It’s not paywalled, so you can go read it noooooow:
1. Sager T. Populists and planners: ‘We are the people. Who are you?’*. Planning Theory. 2020;19(1):80-103. doi:10.1177/1473095219864692
The purpose of this article is to offer planning scholars a basis for criticizing authoritarian populism and not limiting ideological critique to neoliberalism. Authoritarian populism is anti-elitist, anti-pluralist and excluding in that the authentic people includes only part of the population. Authoritarian populists imagine a homogeneous people whose will determines policy. The article deals with confrontations and contact points between communicative planning theory and populist currents. It distils several core themes from five authoritative collections of works on planning theory and examines their relations with populist ideas. Authoritarian populism is an incomplete ideology that can fuse with various other ideologies. Amalgamations of populism and neoliberalism pose new challenges to participatory planning. Authoritarian populism criticizes planning institutions for blocking the immediate realization of the will of the people and being sympathetic to social diversity and cultural influence threatening heartland values. Neoliberalism is opposed to the welfare policies, equity goals, growth restrictions and other public interventions associated with spatial planning. Joint pressure from the two ideologies may alter the planning of liberal democracies in an autocratic direction.