The return of public planning in a post-postpolitical Memphis

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In the US Old South, a context that is characterized by major social and racial gaps and the worship of individual freedoms, planning has always faced significant challenges. Especially in the last couple of decades, the growth of electoral consensus in favor of a political establishment that is clearly against the very existence of any form of public spatial planning – perceived as an unbearable interference with the freedom to dispose of private property by legitimate owners – has favored the establishment of neoliberal planning methods and contents. This is true also for the southern city of Memphis, west Tennessee, the ‘northern capital’ of the Delta region, whose history has been shaped by king Cotton. However, in Memphis, that in many ways represents the full accomplishment of what in the literature is defined as a post-political city, i. e. the substantial death of a political debate able to reflect social conflicts together with basic forms of public welfares, few signs of interest in traditional forms of planning, i. e. an effort by public institutions to govern spatial dynamics in the name of the ‘public interest,’ are appearing. Surprisingly, the very actors that have played a major role on the post-political stage, are today taking a stand against the lack of rules and boundaries for individual and corporate freedom in the real estate sector. This paper discusses the nature of this emerging paradox, presenting the very first outcomes of a case-study research project, carried out by the Department of City and Regional Planning (CRP) at the University of Memphis, TN, with the purpose of contributing to the planning theory debate on possibilities of planning resistance and/or renaissance in the face of neoliberal challenges.
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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