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Democracy through political parties and public participation: the case of the planning history of Groningen, the Netherlands

10 June 2010

PhD ceremony: dhr. S. Tsubohara, 13.15 uur, Academiegebouw, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

Thesis: Democracy through political parties and public participation: the case of the planning history of Groningen, the Netherlands

Promotor(s): prof.dr. G.J. Ashworth

Faculty: Spatial Sciences

According to the prevailing view of democracy, democracy is participation, and the more participatory a decision-making process is, the more democratic the process is. The ideal is classical Greek-type democracy or the New England town meeting. Participatory theory is based on this prevailing popular view. However, participatory theory is just one of democratic theories, originating from the 1960s New Left Movement.

This study evaluates the planning history of Groningen, The Netherlands, not only in terms of participatory theory but also in terms of much older democratic theory, namely, liberal-democratic theory, which puts emphasis on political leadership. This study focuses on three cases. The first case is the traffic circulation plan in the 1970s, which was introduced to drastically reduce cars in the inner city. The second case is a dispute around a car-free urban park mainly in the 1980s. The third case is a traffic plan for the whole city area in the 1990s, which tried to obtain broad public support through the thorough participatory process.

Liberal democrats have been grossly misunderstood and criticised as elitist by participationists. However, the planning history of Groningen reveals that participatory theory is based on unrealistic views of citizens, and that liberal-democratic theory is effective in realising the public interest. Particularly, the history shows that political parties have played a decisive role in realising environment-friendly traffic plans. This study stresses the necessity of adopting liberal-democratic theory, and puts forward some suggestions about political parties, which cannot be replaced by the new social movements.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.40 p.m.
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