Future dis-oriented and punk placemaking

26 October 2019
Presented at ACSP Annual Meeting, Greenville SC

“We shall define planning as future-oriented, public decision-making directed toward attaining specific goals.” (Fainstein & Fainstein 1971)

For decades, marxist, feminist, indigenous, and black scholars have offered critical deconstruction of the different expressions of democracy and rationality in planning and the ways they privilege capitalist, patriarchal, settler-colonial, Western interests. They have challenged the desire for justice, order, and efficiency—recognizing that these are hegemonic constructs supported by institutions that have historically and continue to exclude and burden marginalized groups. Far less attention has been focused on targeting and challenging the third defining criteria of planning, its future-orientation. When pursued uncritically, this future-orientation similarly risks reproducing hegemonic forms of oppression and exclusion. One potential dimension through which to consider why and how marginalized groups are excluded from planning is through their alternative temporalities, including the negation of future. What is the future planning plans for and who is the public planning plans for? What power does planning have to shape the public by planning towards a specific future? How do non-conforming and marginalized groups resist the normalizing forces of the future public and of a public future?

This paper draws on other theories of futurity, including queer and black futurities (Edelman 2004, Munoz 2006), and applies them to a critical auto-ethnography of the Ottawa punk scene. Punk is one of the many excluded marginalized and alternative urban groups who struggle to “make do” and make space for spatio-cultural codes that do not conform to mainstream normative values and expectations. Among its many subversions, transgressions, and denials, punk refuses to conform to normative future-oriented imperatives of life and death; and therefore refuses to conform to the ways in which future influences the social constructs of home, family, culture, and identity. I argue that this “radical negativity” of punk as sub/counterculture also has profound implications on how and why punks make place for themselves. Furthermore, punk is a subculture that arguably emerged from, and was shaped by and against, modernist utopian dreams of urban renewal and the “nameless housing estates” turned “slums-in-the-abstract” (Hebdige 1979), i.e. from a particular planning future. Hebdige argues that the generation of disenfranchised youth raised in this imaginary-future-made-present, that offered them no real future, were denied a sense of place. In return, punks were simultaneously able to deny and re-construct mainstream narrative of place and belonging in their own image.

This paper seeks to critically theorize future as a fractured and contested social construct. It further warns against imagined progressively ideal future that are disconnected from the actually existing day-to-day realities of the present, and deny continuity with the past. For planning to engage critically with the future, it must acknowledge the multiplicities of past, present, and future. This temporal rather than spatial dimension of exclusion might force planning to confront its privileging of future and those who position themselves relative to its particular future imaginary—a future which almost always reproduces the status quo. Building on the argument of Chantal Mouffe (2013), I argue that “radical negativity,” such as that expressed in punk placemaking, is able to de-code and re-code the desirability of space and may provide spaces of at least temporary resistance to forces such as gentrification, and challenge ideas of development and/as progress. Radical negativity of future-orientation might lead planning to better consider radically different futures.


Edelman, L. (2004). No future: Queer theory and the death drive. Durham: Duke University Press.

Fainstein, S. S., & Fainstein, N. I. (1971). City planning and political values. Urban Affairs Review, 6(3), 341-362. 

Hebdige, D. (1979). Subculture, the meaning of style. London: Methuen.

Mouffe, C. (2013). Agonistics: Thinking the world politically. London: Verso.

Muñoz, J. E. (2006). Queers, Punks and the Utopian Performative. In D. Soyini Madison & J. Hamera (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Performance Studies. London: Sage.

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