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An economic critique of urban planning and the 'postmodern' city: Los Angeles

Enid Arvidson, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Since its inception roughly 100 years ago, urban planning has tried to address problems of sprawl, congestion, pollution, and social inequities. Until roughly 20 years ago, these planning attempts were structured by a self-consciously modernist "paradigm." In some cases, modern urban planning was also influenced by left-wing concerns for transcendence of "class" injustices and inequalities. From a Marxist perspective, however, modern urban planning was also, uncritically, structured by modernist essentialisms, both epistemological and methodological. These essentialisms conditioned its focus on certain processes and relations (deemed essential) at the expense of others (deemed inessential), specifically class (in the Marxian sense). One consequence of these essentialisms and foci has been a blindness to the connections between class and the built environment, to struggling and designing policies for justice and democracy in the production process. In the 1970s-'80s, both cities and urban planning underwent tremendous changes. Both liberals and leftists, often citing Los Angeles as quintessential example, have explained these changes as a shift from modern to postmodern ways of using and understanding space. Many liberals and leftists have indeed been critical of postmodern land use and planning for heightened "class" (in a non Marxian sense) polarization, unseen since modern planning's attempts to ameliorate it. Yet in their recognition of and shift to a postmodern paradigm, liberals and leftists have, uncritically, continued to use modernist, essentialist, epistemologies and methodologies. They thus have reproduced conditions under which planners remain unable to see the effects of class and thus unable to help transform it to a more democratic form. This dissertation, in chapter IV, contributes a nonessentialist analysis of urban form, with a focus on class. It decenters the knowledges and issues planners have traditionally deemed essential, putting class on the map of issues addressed by planning. That is, it argues for planning to consider, in addressing urban problems, class, not as some (modernist) key to social change but as one more possible site for bettering urban conditions.

Subject Area

Economic theory|Urban planning|Area planning & development|Geography

Recommended Citation

Arvidson, Enid, "An economic critique of urban planning and the 'postmodern' city: Los Angeles" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9619368.