Speaking Truth to Power? It Takes a Coalition Public Deposited

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  • Clavel, Pierre
    • Other Affiliation: Professor Emeritus, City and Regional Planning Department, Cornell University
  • City planners, architects and their supporters often think of “speaking truth to power.” Typical examples are public works projects or real estate developments that look good on paper, but pose long run and less visible costs to a neighborhood or the city as a whole. Many note that speaking up in cases like this can be difficult, since their most important clients tend to have a lot of power, and can be selective in what “truth” they are able to hear. This is a dilemma that has dogged planners for a century. The usual response has been to suggest courage and persistence, with guidance offered through case histories of remarkable instances where truth-telling actually had an impact. However, there are relatively few such cases. In contrast, scholars have noted that the dominant “power” in cities in the past several decades is the “growth coalition,” consisting of real estate developers, architects, engineers, planners, newspapers and building trades firms and unions that gain from the construction and other accompaniments of “growth.” “Justice” is low on the list of priorities for these projects, or among the outcomes. Overall, the growth coalition is really, really powerful. In the face of this combination of forces, the idea that individuals can make a difference by “speaking truth to power” is just optimistic. Briefly, my premise is that the only way to compete with the growth coalition is to create a different coalition, and to find grounds for support in fundamental forces within the economy. I illustrate this with a story of both (a) an organizer, who found a way to make a difference; and (b) the forces around her, that created a semblance of a coalition, so that her efforts paid off, at least for a few years.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Journal Item
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  • In Copyright
Journal title
  • Carolina Planning Journal
Journal volume
  • 38
Page start
  • 7
Page end
  • 8
  • English
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  • Carolina Planning Journal
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