Punking the common urban narrative

(upcoming) November 2020
Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Annual Meeting, Toronto ON (virtual).

Planning participates in a kind of storytelling that “is not simply persuasive. It is also constitutive” (Throgmorton 2003). The capacity of planning to persuade and to constitute through stories, depends upon the socio-political structures that privilege the stories it has to tell and the futures it envisions. The stories planning tells work to shape both material outcomes but also ways of being, ways of knowing, and ways of evaluating. In order to radically rethink planning praxis, we need  to consider and value stories not only as accounts of past events. We must critically position stories as reflections of the present, and evaluate the power they reproduce into the future. When we understand planning documents and planning processes as social narratives, we must also consider how they participate in the dominant narratives of that society, who they benefit, and who they continue to burden and exclude even in the stories that tell us otherwise. For Sandercock (2003), not only does planning learn from stories, “planning is performed through story.” In this paper, I invert the statement to also call attention to which stories are performed through planning. I adapt performative narrative analysis (Reissman, 1993) to the analysis of three case stories of marginalized and alternative group placemaking events in Ottawa, Canada.

These are the designation of Le/The Village, the construction of the Charlie Bowins Skateboard Park, and the production of the Ottawa Music Strategy. Each notably contribute to guiding principles of the Ottawa 2020 Official Plan towards being “a caring and inclusive city,” “a creative city rich in heritage and unique in identity,” and “a city of distinct and liveable communities.” A key finding of this research is how each of the three case stories and the Official Plan draw upon and participate in “common urban narratives” (Finnegan, 1998). I identify three such narratives: the dangerous city in decline; the city as site of opportunity; and the city as site of injustice. Performative analysis considers not only the content of the narrative but also the role of the authors, characters, and audience. This method invites us to interrogate how these stories implicate each participant in “doing their identities” (Reissman, 1993). These case stories of the struggle to renew, build, access, legitimate and present a more desirable city each notably present the city as in need of a protagonist. I argue that these narratives allow the different participants to perform and conform to their respective foundational stories in order to reinforce identity, belonging, and morality. Ottawa as capital form, planning for the public, and grassroots DIY-ethos, are each heroically performed through the planning process. With an overarching desire to present democratic, progressive, and community-oriented city-building, these three case stories manage to reconcile the roles of its three protagonists, resolve conflict, and improve the “City for All.” They tell us a good story. They tell us a story we want to hear. That is, except for those popularly represented as the antagonists of the city, those who interfere with the noble pursuit for the good city. Through critical autoethnography of punk placemaking in the city, I hope to disrupt the performance of good city-building through common urban narratives. I present an alternative urban narrative with punk as neither antagonist or protagonist, adopting instead an agonistic position and perspective to placemaking. 

Finnegan, R. (1998). Tales of the city: a study of narrative and urban life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Riessman, C. K. (1993). Narrative Analysis. London: Sage.

Sandercock, L. (2003). Out of the Closet: The Importance of Stories and Storytelling in Planning Practice. Planning Theory & Practice, 4(1), 11-28.

Throgmorton, J. A. (2003). Planning as Persuasive Storytelling in a Global-Scale Web of Relationships. Planning Theory, 2(2), 125-151

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