Plans that didn't happen: The geography of urban regeneration failures in South Boston

Authors: John Lauermann*, City University of New York, Eva Kassens-Noor, Michigan State University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Land Use
Keywords: urban regeneration, policy failure, land use, urban and regional planning
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Cleveland 2, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Many North American and European cities must plan for regeneration of large post-industrial spaces. Yet plans often fall through, leaving the spaces unused or underused for lengthy periods of time. Cities often design multiple plans for a space before it is actually redeveloped, yet new iterations often contain elements of the old as ideas from failed plans are recycled and as parts of the space are rebuilt. These repetitive planning practices raise pressing questions about if and how cities might recover value from the investments made in plans that didn’t happen. Drawing on the example of urban regeneration planning in Boston, we analyze repeated and largely failed urban regeneration attempts. We track continuities and breaks across the various regeneration initiatives, showing how planning ideas are recycled across plans and evaluating why repetitive planning was used. We show that repetitive planning introduces multiple, overlapping temporalities into the production of urban space. The planning history vacillates between periods of ambitious planning, moments of policy failure, and episodes of neglect. This study contributes to a growing urban geography literature on the geographies of policy failure with an empirical analysis of the mechanisms behind repetitive planning, and a theoretical evaluation of how failed plans can and cannot transform urban space. It speaks to broader themes in human geography by analyzing the messy temporalities which shape the production of space.

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