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Planning contexts

Bureaucracy and rule relations in French urbanism

Time: Fri 2020-09-25 09.00

Location:, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Planning and Decision Analysis Urban and Regional Studies

Doctoral student: Jenny Lindblad , Urbana och regionala studier

Opponent: Professor Simone Abram, University of Durham

Supervisor: Professor Jonathan Metzger, Urbana och regionala studier; Associate Professor Maria Håkansson, Infrastruktur, Urbana och regionala studier, Infrastruktur och samhällsplanering

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This thesis examines practices of contextualization in urban planning in Bordeaux. While planning theorists have established the importance of attending to the diversecontexts that shape urban planning, few studies have inquired about the ways urbanplanning activities shape contexts. When the Bordeaux Métropole intercommunal organization set out to reviseits land-use plan, a document positing the regulations applicable for building permitapplications, the resulting plan was intended to be less bureaucratic and more“adapted to context.” I explore the implications of this claim based on fieldworkon rule relations among planners, permit reviewers, metropolitan officials, local politicians, and planning documents. Beginning with the assumption that what is important to plans may be external to their content, I follow the land-use plan from preparation to implementation in the permit review. The activities in Bordeaux are framed through theories on the role of bureaucracy and flexibility in contemporary urban planning, while the issue of context is analyzed through an anthropological lens that understands contexts as never pre-existing, but produced through practices.The study shows how urban planning in Bordeaux unfolded amidst clashing contexts and overlapping temporalities, including national reforms of local government in favor of intercommunal planning and enhancement of shared longterm plans with flexible modalities, planners working for a regulatory framework adaptable to diverse settings, permit reviewers concerned with ensuring the legalaccuracy of permit decisions, and municipal election cycles. The permit review became a strategically important activity in which modalities of flexibility were used to ensure municipal authority in response to a shifting political landscape that empowered the intercommunal government. The revision of the plan to be “adapted to context” came to imply a municipal concern to influence permits in a continuous present, in opposition of the longer-term temporality imposed by a common landuseplan among municipalities within the metropole. In this situation, local planning actors grappled with the distribution of the capacity to define which contextsmattered, at what moment, and by whom those definitions were made. By showing how urban actors selectively deployed divergent views on the notion of context, this study underlines the importance of attending to the politics of contextualizationin urban planning.