The changing role of 'the public interest' in Serbian planning practice
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This thesis presents research on the changing role of the concept of ‘the public interest’ in Serbian planning practice. It explores the relation between the process and outcomes of socialist and contemporary cases of planning in ‘the public interest’ in order to examine the potential causality between the employed procedures and results of planning practices. The proposed methodology is grounded in a phronetic approach to planning research, where the research methods follow from the research problem in order to reveal how ‘the public interest’ is shaped and articulated within the local context. Findings in this research were mainly derived through interpretive analysis of interviews conducted with planning professionals from public, private, NGO and international consultancy sector and some representatives of the general public in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. These are complemented by content and quantitative analysis of planning legislation and plans, since socialism. The results indicate that the socialist cases were characterized by the lack of procedural ‘public interest’ through public engagement. However, the outcomes of such practices still represent the benchmark of ‘good planning’ that is ‘in the public interest’ for most of the interviewees in this research. In addition, the study of contemporary cases shows that the existence of a public consultation arena does not necessarily mean that ‘the public interest’ will be achieved in either process or the outcomes. In these cases, ‘the public interest’ was derived in a form of social activism, networking and social capital. These were created due to the lack of transparent and participatory process and lack of implemented public goods, besides being articulated as the result of the collaborative process, as suggested in the communicative planning theory. The contribution of this research is to offer a basis for the re-examination of rational and communicative planning theory in relation to the treatment of ‘the public interest’, in the context of a post-socialist country.