Saint Louis University Public Law Review


For decades legal and planning commentators have advocated a deeper and more meaningful level of public participation in urban revitalization efforts. The result of such advocacy has increased the use of public participation as a criterion for awarding federal redevelopment funds but has had little impact on participatory requirements in state redevelopment law. This article explores the theoretical arguments in favor of increased public participation in the redevelopment context and finds that there is an overemphasis on direct democracy arguments and the “empowerment” theory, a concept that belies simple definition. This article explores the intrinsic and instrumental benefits of public participation and finds that participatory planning is beneficial as a legitimizing form of deliberation in governance, but only when used as a supplement to, rather than a replacement for politically accountable legislative authorities. This understanding of the role of participatory planning provides a more convincing rhetorical and normative regime that justifies the difficulties that arise when granting greater resident control of redevelopment and further legitimizes the planning process in a way that is legally cognizable by courts reviewing urban redevelopment plans. As a result, this article describes the need for more robust procedural legal rights that would allow low-income residents to resist redevelopment in those instances where the goals of participatory planning are not attained due to government corruption or inattention to public input. This new rhetorical and normative regime is tested against actual urban redevelopment planning methods used in Camden, New Jersey and East St. Louis, Illinois. This article suggests specific changes to state redevelopment laws that would enshrine deeper public participation values and concludes with an eye towards the additional research and advocacy necessary for achieving those changes.

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