Activism by lay and professional planners

Types, research issues, and ongoing analysis





Activism was one of the main themes of the AESOP PhD Workshop 2018 in Karlskrona and Tjärö, Sweden. One of my presentations was about the activist roles of planners working for local governments and lay planners affiliated with civil society organizations. I have kept a close eye on the academic literature on activist planning for many years, and am still working in that sub-field of planning theory. My aim is to explore the limits of how professional planners with an activist intent can practice their line of work inside a bureaucracy, and to study how actors from the civil society can use spatial planning and local environmental planning in combination with direct action as a strategy for achieving their goals. To specify the kind of planning I have in mind, I follow Healey (1997:69), stating that: ‘Spatial and environmental planning, understood relationally, becomes a practice of building a relational capacity which can address collective concerns about spatial co-existence, spatial organisation and the qualities of places’. Activist planners can contribute to the processes of such planning and help collect and form the input to spatial and environmental plans.





Research article


Addie, J.-P. D. (2008). The rhetoric and reality of urban policy in the neoliberal city: implications for social struggle in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati. Environment and Planning A. 40: 2674–2692.

Ay, D. & Miraftab, F. (2016). Invented spaces of activism: Gezi Park and performative practices of citizenship. In: J. Grugel & D. Hammett (Eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of International Development (pp. 555–574). London: Palgrave.

Bächtiger, A., Niemeyer, S., Neblo, M., Steenbergen, M. R. & Steiner, J. (2010). Symposium: toward more realistic models of deliberative democracy. Disentangling diversity in deliberative democracy: competing theories, their blind spots and complementarities. Journal of Political Philosophy. 18(1): 32–63.

Corburn, J., Curl, S., Arredondo, G. & Malagon, J. (2015). Making health equity planning work: a relational approach in Richmond, California. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 35(3): 265–281.

Forester, J. (1994). Lawrence Susskind. Activist mediation and public disputes. In: D. M. Kolb and Associates (Ed.), When Talk Works. Profiles of Mediators (pp. 309-354). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gallent, N. (2014). Connecting to the citizenry? Support groups in community planning in England. In N. Gallent & D. Ciaffi (Eds.), Community Action and Planning. Contexts, Drivers and Outcomes (pp 301-322). Bristol: Policy Press.

Healey, P. (1997). Collaborative Planning. Shaping Places in Fragmented Societies. London: Macmillan.

Hysing, E. & Olsson, J. (2018). Green Inside Activism for Sustainable Development. Political Agency and Institutional Change. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

INURA (2003). An alternative urban world is possible: a declaration for urban research and action. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 27(4): 952–955.

Kennedy, M. & Tilly, C. (2019). Field education and community-based planning in a worst-case scenario. Journal of Planning Education and Research. OnlineFirst, DOI: 10.1177/0739456X19847725.

Kohl, B. (2003). Nongovernmental organizations as intermediaries for decentralization in Bolivia. Environment and Planning C. 21(3): 317–331.

Legacy, C. & van den Nouwelant, R. (2015). Negotiating strategic planning’s transitional spaces: the case of “guerrilla governance” in infrastructure planning. Environment and Planning A. 47: 209–226.

Lehrer, U. & Keil, R. (2007). From possible urban worlds to the contested metropolis. Research and action in the age of urban neoliberalism. In: H. Leitner, J. Peck & E. S. Sheppard (Eds.). Contesting Neoliberalism. Urban Frontiers (pp. 291–310). London: Guilford Press.

Loftus, A. (2009). Intervening in the environment of the everyday. Geoforum. 40(3): 326–334.

Long, J. (2013). Sense of place and place-based activism in the neoliberal city. The case of “weird” resistance. City. 17(1): 52–67.

Nyseth, T. (2011). The Tromsø experiment: opening up for the unknown. Town Planning Review. 82(5): 573–593.

O’Kelly, M. (2009). Urban negotiations – Nomadic Kitchen and strategies of practice. field 3(1): 75–94.

O’Neill, P. & Doherty, C. (Eds.) (2011). Locating the Producers: Durational Approaches to Public Art. Amsterdam: Valiz.

Pinel, S. L. (2017). Learning reflective planning: the application of participatory action research principles to planning studio design and assessment. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research. 34(1): 32–48.

Pithouse, R. (2009). Abahlali baseMjondolo and the struggle for the city in Durban, South Africa. Cidades. 6(9): 241–270.

Reardon, K.M. (2008). Planning, hope, and struggle in the wake of Katrina: Ken Reardon on the New Orleans Planning Initiative (Ken Reardon in conversation with John Forester, in Interfaces). Planning Theory and Practice. 9(4): 518–540.

Sager, T. (2013). Reviving Critical Planning Theory. Dealing with Pressure, Neo-liberalism, and Responsibility in Communicative Planning. London: Routledge.

Sager, T. (2016). Activist planning: a response to the woes of neo-liberalism? European Planning Studies. 24(7): 1262–1280.

Sager, T. (2018). Planning by intentional communities: an understudied form of activist planning. Planning Theory. 17(4): 449–471.

Shakir, U. (2008). An alternative tale of the city: Toronto and the Alternative Planning Group. Progressive Planning Magazine. 177(Fall): 4–7.