Urban and Urbanization

Planning context: Flexible plans and mayoral authority in French urban planning

In this article, I consider the relationship between urban planning and context by investigating the planning practices associated with a land-use plan in Bordeaux described as “adapted to context.” Invested with flexible rules, the plan description followed a tendency in French urban planning concerned with being strategic, prospective, and participatory. It was also the result of metropolitan planning. Through an ethnographic account, I show how local politicians’ references to context related to concerns with mayoral authority in times of planning powers transferred to the metropole. Using permit reviewers’ skills, mayors mobilized flexible rules to manipulate building permit decisions prepared in compliance with the metropolitan plan. It is widely acknowledged that urban planning is affected by as well as affecting different contexts. I outline a complementing approach by drawing on engagements with context in anthropology and STS-scholarship, to propose that the practices associated with the same notion in Bordeaux are telling of how urban planning contributes to making contexts. Since calls for context direct attention and shape which issues and local communities are prioritized, these insights on the relationship between planning and context urge attention to how appeals to context, as never value-neutral or ready-made, gain importance across different urban planning issues and settings.

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Volume 41 Issue 4

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