Between a Rock and a Hard Place


In a new publication in the journal Planning Practice and Research, WHIG researcher Sara Özogul investigates how planners in Amsterdam learn from interacting with property industry actors, and how their learning experiences travel beyond the project scale to instigate wider institutional change.

The paper addresses scholars and planning practitioners’ concerns about property development practices, in which comprehensive visions of a city are replaced by deal making between public sector and property industry actors on a project-by-project basis. It argues that this form of development requires attention to how planners, who operate as project managers, connect actions, practices and lessons learnt from different projects with one another, in order to change established procedures and guide the future behaviour of actors.

Drawing on in-depth interviews, the paper showcases how planners working for the City of Amsterdam’s Project Management Office learn from the concrete challenges emerging in interactions with property industry actors, and how they adapt their attitudes and behaviour in line with type of projects they are involved in. The City’s experience with property development in which public actors have restricted influence is limited. Therefore, planners have to be creative and experiment to solve unforeseen challenges. As a consequence, they experience increased daily stress levels as they enter unchartered territory, must construct their own behavioural manuals, and establish new skill sets.

The analysis reveals that local political changes in Amsterdam, coupled with rising land and property values boost the City’s confidence and result in less flexibility, stricter regulations and tighter policy objectives in contrast to national government agendas that embrace private sector interests. As a consequence, planners find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Their dilemma is to fulfil spatial policy objectives involving compromises with property industry actors in a tightening regulatory and policy framework. The tightening framework makes the process more difficult and may even deter private sector actors engaging in housing production if they deem it not profitable enough. Both not delivering policy objectives, but also not upholding the municipal government’s standards, are not an option.

The paper calls for putting a human face on these governance intricacies and incorporating private sector considerations in literature on institutional change in planning. You can read more at: Özogul, S. (2020). Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Investigating Planners’ Learning Experiences in Amsterdam’s Fragmented Governance of Property DevelopmentPlanning Practice and Research.

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