Planning processes between agonistic uses of participation and participatory uses of conflicts


  • Maude Cournoyer-Gendron UQAM


Contentious urban planning, Effects of conflictuality in planning, Conflict-participation continuum




Conflicts are part and parcel of contemporary urban planning processes. The aim of this communication is to shed light on the role of such contentious moments in the elaboration and concretization of urban projects. 

Results presented here are drawn from a doctoral research, using a multi-case strategy built on press analysis and semi-structured interviews, focusing on the effects of conflicts in planning processes and outcomes. The two cases studied were the Yellopark project—a new stadium for the local football club (and its adjacent urban development) in Nantes (France), and the Royalmount project—a lifestyle centre to be built at the crossing of two highways in Montreal (Canada). 

To a lesser or greater extent, the multiple critiques advocated by a variety of actors had a wide range of effects on projects, their implementation and on the territory. Results shown that projects changed mainly through minor adjustments and in some rarer cases, through major bifurcations when subjected to critiques. 

Nonetheless, six effects of conflicts in planning were identified in our study: (1) the apparition of newly concerned actors, (2) the emergence of unprecedented spaces for debate—either institutionalized, or initiated by citizens or private firms; (3) the formulation of counter-expertise, as well as the emergence of alternative projects. Due to the conflict, (4) various concerns were revealed for the territory of the project, and (5) contrasting views of the city and its future were carried out by the actors at hand. Hence, the moment of conflict acts as a trial phase for projects, (6) forcing its justification, spreading the debate towards new issues—from more technical aspects of the project to the question of its impacts and possible scenarios. 

By highlighting some of the effects of conflicts in urban planning processes and outcomes, we could then reflect on theoretical implications of our empirical observations where there was a blurred line between participation and conflict (Blondiaux, 2008; Bobbio and Melé, 2015; Fung and Wright, 2005). In fact, we observed antagonistic use of participation by institutional actors and the use of conflict as a way to establish new spaces of participation or to be invited in the conversation. Such evidence implies to rethink the imbrication of conflict dynamics related to counter-powers and the more collaborative dynamics associated with a deliberative ideal, in the “making of the urban” (fabrique urbaine). It is an invitation to envision a continuum between conflict and participation (Bobbio and Melé, 2015), and to rise above the dichotomy of collaborative or agonistic participatory process, with a top-down, consensus-oriented, institutionalized, process on one side, and bottom-up and insurgent participation on the other (Healy, 2003; Hilbrandt, 2017).