The topic of Public interest is one that I find to be very fascinating as it is a political concept that not many people, including myself, can pinpoint exactly.  One of the reasons for this is because public interest rides on “intellectual stakes,” as referred to in “The Public Interest Reconsidered.”  The political concept is based on absolute value, morality and reasoning; therefore, it’s framework rides on the inevitably biased thinking of scholars and politicians, and what they find to be satisfactory [1].  “The Public Interest Reconsidered,” articulates the five theories of public interest, explains the reasoning behind them and notes the complications each theory comes with.  Although I personally find each theory to be easily comprehensible, I would like to find out why other scholars or bloggers think pinpointing the matter is such a challenge, if they themselves have any helpful clarifications of the definition and how it all ties back to urban planning.

Crowd - Public Interest

Many scholars hold the common value that people should be the beneficiaries of the government when thinking in terms of the public interest [2].  Jane Johnston, an Associate Professor in Communication and Public Relations at The University of Queensland, discusses this matter in her blog post, “Whose Interest.”  Johnston believes that the common value of the public interest lacks a universal definition because it is based on scope and purpose, or in simpler terms; judgement calls.  These judgement calls are complicated because they are based on values and morals, which both change with time [2].  This similarly ties back to the idea of public interest being based on whatever one finds “agreeable.”  An interesting topic Johnston brings up is importance of determining the process of public interest as opposed to only defining its outcome.  Referencing Chris Wheeler, an Australian Ombudsman, Johnston notes the seven elements that should be considered when working in the public interest:

 

  • Complying with applicable law
  • Carrying out functions fairly and impartially
  • Complying with principles of procedural fairness/natural justice
  • Acting reasonably
  • Ensuring accountability and transparency
  • Exposing corrupt conduct or serious maladministration
  • Avoiding or properly managing private interests conflicting with official duties; and
  • Acting apolitically in the performance of official functions.

 

It is noted by a responding blogger that these steps only deal with the legality of the public interest; however, the steps do pose a helpful method in how the public interest can be approached.

 

In tying all of this back to Urban Planning, Harry F. Etienne, Assistant Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, exclaims the great conflict of planners trying to mediate goals of fulfilling client objectives which are legal and consistent with the public interest.  In using real estate, he exposes economic inequality and the flaws of planners being under-prepared to carry out the full extent of their work [3].  In conclusion, proposed suggestions to compensate for some of the flaws of urban planning within the public interest are:

 

  1. The Code of Ethics needs refinement for our current political context as the power of money evidently affects how planning operates on a local state and federal level.
  2. System of planning education needs to consider “gulf” planning schools must consider between worlds of theory and design, and competitive development and aggressive market forces.  Students should be equipped to deal with these practical dilemmas.
  3. Need to emphasize  how planning positively contributes to social inequalities in order to avoid putting the planning field at risk of becoming less relevant.

 

Sources:

  1. Sorauf, F. (1957). ‘The Public Interest Reconsidered”, in The Journal of Politics, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Nov., 1957), pp. 616-639.
  2. Jane Johnston Associate Professor in Communication and Public Relations, The University of Queensland. “Whose interests? Why defining the ‘public interest’ is such a challenge.” The Conversation, 25 Sept. 2017, theconversation.com/whose-interests-why-defining-the-public-interest-is-such-a-challenge-84278. Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.
  3. Etienne, Harley F. “What is Consistent with the Public Interest?” Plannersnetwork.org, University of Michigan , 2014.
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