Speaking Truth to Power

Speaking Truth to Power

Pierre Clavel (Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA)
Copyright: © 2014 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/ijepr.2014010102


City planners (including e-planners) have at times sought to “speak truth to power,” as when the interests of poor neighborhoods' needs to preserve jobs and housing confront real estate developers promoting urban renewal schemes to replace existing homes and factories with upscale appartments and shopping malls. The planners have tools – writing, speaking, and the array of ICT devices they can employ. But they face powerful forces – not only developers, but builders, investors, professionals, city officials and media. This article – set in 1980s and 1990s Chicago -- presents the story of an alternative approach – an organizer who built a coalition of neighborhoods and employers that prevailed over a period of years. It may be a metaphor for more contemporary times. Can e-planners learn from such an example?
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The Growth Coalition

In no case has this success realized its potential, a potential which now gets articulation as “the just city,” or even “the just metropolis” (Fainstein, 2010). In contrast, scholars have noted that the dominant “power” in cities in the past several decades is the “growth coalition,” consisting of real estate developers, architects, engineers, planners, newspapers and building trades firms and unions that gain from the construction and other accompaniments of “growth,” typically through projects like downtown malls and tourist attractions, sports stadia, “worlds fairs,” transit development like subways and highways. These tend to be inordinately expensive, oversold, and costly to middle and working class people throughout the city, and particularly those located near the downtown, or in the path of the proposed projects; “justice” is low on the list of priorities for these projects, or among the outcomes. Nor is the growth coalition confined to local issues. It has been able to generate subsidies and regulatory relief at federal and state as well as local levels, from elements in both Republican and Democratic parties, and has been able to coordinate support for projects across class and race lines, as well as across sectors of economic activity. Overall, it is really, really powerful. 3

In the face of this many-tentacled combination of forces, the idea that individuals can make a difference by “speaking truth to power” is, let’s say, optimistic. Briefly, my premise is that the only way to compete with a coalition, is to create a different coalition. I can illustrate this with a story of both (a) an individual, who found a way to make a difference; and (b) the forces around her, that created a semblance of a coalition, so that her efforts paid off, at least for a few years. 4

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