The expertise of participation: mass housing and urban planning in postwar France

Kenny Cupers
Planning Perspectives, 26: 1, 2010

This article analyses the advent of participation in French planning as the historical touchstone of a larger shift in urban thinking. It investigates how the interactions between inhabitants, developers, state officials and social scientific experts in the production of large-scale modern housing areas and new towns helped bring about user participation as a category of action and discourse. The article argues that the transformation of inhabitants into active participants entails the development of legitimate ‘user knowledge’ and therefore – perhaps paradoxically – the continuing involvement of experts. The first part of the article examines how the turn towards mass housing production during the 1950s prompted the question of the user and established the ground for debates about participation. The second part of the article explores the relationship between inhabitant contestation and changing urban planning and policy-making during the 1960s. The focus here is on Sarcelles, which served both as a national urban model, a key object of sociological study, and the main target of national public outcry, and helps to reveal relations between local contestation, national policy and shifts in urban thinking. The last part of the article looks at the concrete influence of ideas of participation on subsequent urban policies during the 1970s.

Inhabitants protest at Sarcelles, 1964
© Jacques Windenberger

France, housing, urban planning, participation, expertise

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