Theses Master's

Performative Democracy: Participatory Planning, Co-optation and the Laundering of State Power in the South Bronx

Buchanan, C. Hayes

This research evaluates the role of participatory planning mechanisms such as Community Boards (CBs) and public hearings through two case studies involving environmental justice advocacy in the South Bronx. By tracing the theoretical and political underpinnings of the Postreform era of planning I contend that the results of the movement to democratize the planning process as encoded in the 1975 and 1989 charter reforms were severely flawed because it did not meaningfully devolve power to citizens - an observation often overlooked by contemporary academics. In the intervening years the agency afforded to communities by these processes has developed unevenly: while some wealthy neighborhoods have wielded their CB to effectively achieve their goals, others like those in the South Bronx have found their priorities repeatedly ignored, overridden, or watered down. Through a thorough examination of the economic development deal which resulted in FreshDirect moving their headquarters to a site in Port Morris and the Sheridan Expressway redesign I develop a theory of co-optation that instrumentalizes participation in order to launder state power to private interests, signaled by a retreat by activists from the official venues of the planning process in favor of ad-hoc advocacy groups.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Urban Planning
Thesis Advisors
Bou Akar, Hiba
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
September 30, 2021