Unsolicited urbanism: development monopolies, regulatory-technical fixes and planning-as-deal-making

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Environment and Planning A


This article identifies the evolution of, and critiques, unsolicited urbanism—a project of city-shaping favouring powerful market actors but inconsistent with the neoliberal tenet of competition. Marked by predetermined outcomes, unsolicited urbanism legitimates secretive monopolies over specific sites and the normalization of planning-as-deal-making. Such features are not uncommon globally, as circuits of capital seek rent opportunities latent in urban land, and as market actors increasingly exercise power over development decision-making. But following casino-led mega-development in Melbourne (Southbank/Docklands) and Sydney (Barangaroo), Australia, unsolicited urbanism has coalesced as a clearly-identifiable project, inflected by relationships forged in the Asia-Pacific. The project, promoted by coalitions of developers, global capital, state government, and real estate, engineering and financing consultants, targets not just new sites for development, but the planning system itself. At its heart is a novel urban planning instrument, Unsolicited Proposals, that codifies and legitimizes bold and secretive bids for sites and assets over which governments and communities have not signalled intent or need for change. Unsolicited Proposal guidelines solicit premeditated, commercial-in-confidence bids to redevelop key urban assets without outside competition. Originating in two high-profile waterfront sites in Australia, the formalized Unsolicited Proposal planning process has spread elsewhere as a ‘fix’ to ‘unlock’ urban spaces for casino development, infrastructure financing and quasi-privatizations, with foreboding signs of its rapid mobility. The project of unsolicited urbanism connects money and power in new ways to reshape cities, and this analysis shows how a suite of regulatory-technical processes has been reconfigured to make this possible.

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