Scholars on Bilbao

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Neoliberal urbanization in Europe: Large-scale urban development projects and the New Urban Policy.

ANTIPODE 34 (3): 542-577

ABSTRACT: This paper summarizes the theoretical insights drawn from a study of thirteen large-scale urban development projects (UDPs) in twelve European Union countries. The project focused on the way in which globalization and liberalization articulate with the emergence of new forms of governance, on the formation of a new scalar gestalt of governing and on the relationship between large-scale urban development and political, social and economic power relations in the city. Among the most important conclusions, we found that: Large-scale UDPs have increasingly been used as a vehicle to establish exceptionality measures in planning and policy procedures. This is part of a neoliberal "New Urban Policy" approach and its selective "middle- and upper-class" democracy. It is associated with new forms of "governing" urban interventions, characterized by less democratic and more elite-driven priorities. Local democratic participation mechanisms are not respected or are applied in a very "formalist" way, resulting in a new choreography of elite power. However, grassroots movements occasionally manage to turn the course of events in favor of local participation and of modest social returns for deprived social groups. The UDPs are poorly integrated at best into the wider urban process and planning system. As a consequence, their impact on a city as a whole and on the areas where the projects are located remains ambiguous. Most UDPs accentuate socioeconomic polarization through the working of real-estate markets (price rises and displacement of social or low-income housing), changes in the priorities of public budgets that are increasingly redirected from social objectives to investments in the built environment and the restructuring of the labor market. The UDPs reflect and embody a series of processes that are associated with changing spatial scales of governance; these changes, in turn, reflect a shifting geometry of power in the governing of urbanization.

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