Green Belt – a capacity to engage

Green Belt is an environmental designation internationally adopted by spatial planning regimes, and famously associated with the arousal of passionately loyal identification. The passions aroused by Green Belt are often disparaged by the planning profession, but the capacity to arouse public concern is a political accomplishment and one essential to the organisation of democracy.

The practices of town planning articulate public concern for matters of heritage, conservation, and sustainability – among many other issues – and they create objects and settings, the listed buildings, the national parks, the plans and development regulations that organise and demonstrate that concern. These settings become the focus for public engagement; as material things they participate in the organisation of political publics and what Metzger (2013a: 783) called ‘their collective becoming’, or public identification with the spaces of political governance.

This paper investigates the ‘powers of engagement’ (Marres, 2012: 106) invested in Green Belt and explores the work done to engage publics in political debate and to orient them towards the settings of democratic governance. It seeks to contribute to an emerging literature on material participation that asks how non-human entities can be understood to organise and mobilise publics. The paper presents a case study of the performative agency of Green Belt in mobilising publics around a new regional tier of government in North West England, the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. In late 2016 the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework  set out proposals to allocate Green Belt land for development to enable sub-regional economic growth. In research with the publics mobilised by this threat  the paper explores the capacity of Green Belt to inspire public engagement in the Combined Authority and in competing visions of its future. Read the full paper here:
Combined authorities and material participation the capacity of green belt

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