Is it possible to identify a localist-populist planning agenda? 


  • Harriet Dunn KTH


populism, public interest, public opposition




This paper explores the motivations, mechanisms, and agendas of local opposition movements, as well as the ideological commitments upon which they are built. In pursuit of these objectives, the concept of 'populism' emerges as a valuable analytical device (Filion, 2011; Sager, 2020; Wanvik and Haarstad, 2021; Fainstein and Novy, 2023).  Despite the extensive discussion on populism in various social science disciplines, its exploration within the realm of planning theory and practice remains relatively undeveloped.

Specifically, the paper is concerned with identifying a localist-populist planning agenda, asking: what forms do localist-populist visions of planning take? What roles and values do they imagine for planning practitioners?  To address these research aims, a single case study is employed. Knivsta, a small-town in Sweden, is chosen as an illustrative example of an emerging right-wing populist governing coalition, spearheaded by an independent local party, with a political agenda centred on planning and land development issues.

The localist-populist coalition in Knivsta expresses a politics of dissatisfaction directed at the preceding neoliberal governing regime, channelling this discontent into a comprehensive agenda for planning and land development. Rooted in two core values—preservation and protection—the governing regime in Knivsta prioritizes the conservation of local place identity and the existing material conditions of current residents, as a homogenous group, at the expense of an imagined and undesirable 'future resident.' This agenda articulates a distinct, transformed role for planners, as custodians of the 'public interest' with enhanced capacities to regulate and control urban development. The planner is also envisioned as an enabler of public engagement towards a truly ‘people-centred’ planning programme.

The paper concludes by highlighting the significance of the findings for planning theory and practise, asking if new localist-populist governing regimes constitute a substantive ‘game changer’.


Fainstein, S. and Novy, J. (2023) ‘Right-wing populism and urban planning’, Journal of Urban Affairs, 0(0), pp. 1–24. Available at:

Filion, P. (2011) ‘Toronto’s Tea Party: Right-Wing Populism and Planning Agendas’, Planning Theory & Practice, 12(3), pp. 464–469. Available at:

Sager, T. (2020) ‘Populists and planners: “We are the people. Who are you?”*’, Planning Theory, 19(1), pp. 80–103. Available at:

Wanvik, T.I. and Haarstad, H. (2021) ‘Populism, Instability, and Rupture in Sustainability Transformations’, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 111(7), pp. 2096–2111. Available at: