Urban planning policy across Europe has the last decades focused on favoring strategic and cross-sectoral approaches and enhancing the flexibility of planning processes. In this talk, I inquire the implications of this shift in a city administration in France by following the preparation and uses of a land-use plan. When the city of Bordeaux initiated a revision of its land use plan, essentially an anticipatory activity drawing on pasts, contemporary concerns and aspirations for the future, the planning department and politicians assured that it was to become “contextualized.” Inspired by Asdal and Moser’s (2012) proposition to consider “contexting” as a move that recognizes the overlapping presence of multiple contexts shaped through practices, I carry out a contextualization of what a ‘contextualized plan’ came to mean in Bordeaux. I do this based on fieldwork among planners, permit reviewers, local politicians and planning documents. The plan revision unfolded to the background of two interrelated shifts in France: the scaling of land use planning from municipalities towards intermunicipal metropoles and reforms enhancing the flexibility of plans to ensure their adjustability towards unpredictable futures and unruly environments. By tracing the intentions that had been invested in the plan and how it operated in the realm of building permit reviewing, I show how the intersection of legal, technical and political temporalities was strategically made use of by different actors. Among these were local politicians’ uses of the increased flexibility to insure an authority over land use decisions in spite of the plan. The anticipatory activity of plan making, I argue, was as much about the future that it laid out, as it was a political struggle over capacity to act on planning decisions in an unfolding present.


Jenny Lindblad is a researcher at the Division of Urban and Regional Studies, KTH Royal Institute of Technology. Her work centers on practices, expertise and materialities that shape cities and urban life. She recently defended her doctoral thesis Planning Contexts: Bureaucracy and rule relations in French Urbanism, joined the research project Humus Economicus: Soil Blindness and the Value of 'Dirt' in Urbanized Landscapes and co-edited of the book Dilemmas of Sustainable Urban Development: A View from Practice.