Review: the Ashgate Research Companion to Planning and Culture

Editor(s) Greg Young and Deborah Stevenson
Publisher Ashgate
Year 2013

The Ashgate Research Companion to Planning and Culture, edited by Greg Young and Deborah Stevenson, is made up of a collection of essays that illustrates the many ways in which culture intersects with planning theory. Young (2013: 14) argues that culture is imperative to ‘deepen and sensitize planning theory and planning practice to assist planning in its development and transformation’. Culture and planning are inextricably intertwined, but the nature of this interrelation has found varying articulations in planning theory. Because the notion of culture is so all encompassing and highly contested, it is difficult to draw the two disciplines together to reflect culture and planning in all its complexity. The Ashgate Research Companion to Culture and Planning has taken on this ambitious challenge.

The book has been arranged into six sections. Each section includes three theoretical chapters and concludes with a case study. ‘Part 1: Global Contexts’ explores the role of culture in the global-local nexus within planning. By unpacking the reality of planning within the local as a product of local and global power dynamics (Miller, chap 3; Newman and Thornley, chap 4), the potential for a ‘cultural renewal’ of planning can be debated (Watson, chap 1; Ward, chap 2).

‘Part 2: Planning and its Dimensions’ explores an ‘enlargement of thinking’ (Watson, chap 7) in planning theory in order to address the ‘forms of planning left wanting’ (Young, 2014: 88). Greed (chap 5) explores the gendered nature of planning in the UK. Throgmorton (chap 6) explores the politics of planning through the Tea Party movement in the US. Watson (chap 7) questions the epistemological assumptions of the Northern planning canon. Searle (chap 8) critiques the development values underpinning regeneration strategies in Sydney.

‘Part 3: Culture and its Dimensions’ explores the expanded definition of ‘culture as a way of life’ (Stevenson, 2014: 154) in cities. Stevenson (chap 9) explores how citizenship is invoked as a planning tool. O’Connor (chap 10) critiques neoliberal shifts in cultural policy. Ashworth (chap 11) interrogates the idea of heritage planning as distinct from everyday planning. Sasaki (chap 12) looks at cultural clusters and the creative economy in Japan.

‘Part 4: Planning Practices’ reflects on the challenges of the practice of planning, arguing for a range of ways to deepen ‘place identity, development, sustainability, creativity and cultural resilience’ (Young, 2014: 222). Evans (chap 13) argues for mainstreaming cultural planning in the UK. Pieterse (chap 14) explores sustainability and cultural planning within the development project in the context of crisis in cities of the South. Dovey (chap 15) explores place identities and planning in Australia. Baycan and Fusco Girard (chap 16) explore sustainability and the slow city movement in Italy.

‘Part 5: Cultural Practices’ grapples with the challenges of cultural diversity and planning, particularly of public space. Low (chap 17) explores the impact of planning and regulation of public space in social exclusion in the US. Paddison (chap 18) unpacks the consequences of ‘aesthetic interventions’ (art and architecture) in public space. Nyseth (chap 19) argues that place marketing, place branding and place reimagining impact on place identity in different ways. Montgomery (chap 20) explores success factors for cultural quarters in the UK.

‘Part 6: Cultural and Planning Dynamics’ looks at the intersections of culture and planning that Young (2014: 359) argues have intensified ‘through the globalization of networks, economies and social practices’. Duxbury and Jeanotte (chap 21) critique the impact of global creative cities movements on local cultural planning. Bianchini (chap 22) raises important questions about the privileging of certain aspects of culture (such as art) within cultural policy. Young (chap 23) offers holistic culturization as an organising principle for cultural planning. Hillier (chap 24) critiques behalfist cultural planning through a post-structural critique of heritage planning.

Stevenson (2014: 434) concludes the tome and in her ‘Afterword’ argues that ‘what is needed is a radically different approach to the task and this is one that seeks to combine planning and culture – to plan cities with, and through urban cultures and complexity’.

The volume draws together a range of different approaches to conceptualising the role of culture in planning. Given the diverse ways culture is utilised in planning, Young (2014: 12) provides a useful conceptual device in the introduction in order to read across the six sections that situates the intersection of culture and planning. This is as follows: ‘The six [cultural] factors [of planning] consist of 1) cultural diversity, 2) local place and global flows, 3) the cultural and creative industries, 4) public space and citizenship, 5) cultural planning and sustainability perspectives, and 6) social and cultural theories and concepts of culture, history and heritage’.

This publication provides an important conceptual, theoretical and empirical contribution to culture and planning, especially as it demonstrates how culture is invoked in different ways in different circumstances. There does seem to be an overwhelming focus on the positive potential for intersecting culture and planning, and while this is an important project, an engagement with the messiness, violence, dissensus and prejudice that goes with culture in all of Young’s (2014: 12) articulations is missing.

Additionally, the focus remains largely Northern-centric, of the Anglo-Saxon canon, and draws on experiences primarily from Australia, the US and the UK. The Ashgate Research Companion series positions itself as a ‘comprehensive and authoritative state-of-the-art review’, yet the focus is still quite limited in its geopolitical scope. Given that much of the pressure to ‘enlarge thinking’ in planning is coming from Southern theorists, a Southern consideration is lacking from this volume.


Rike Sitas is a researcher at the African Centre for Cities and the co-founder of public art organisation dala.

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