chapter  9
15 Pages

Beyond participation: a capability approach to urban development in Sydney


Design as human development In an increasingly urbanized world, public infrastructure including roads, sewerage, drinking water and electricity are vital to urban development and quality of life. Public infrastructure projects materially affect the quality of life of communities, and are critically instrumental to their pursuit of well-being (Storey 2006). As a result, communities, particularly in the developing world, have taken on the role of planner, designer, financier and builder of public infrastructure; they are ‘doing more and more for themselves and others pushing central and local governments to take progressive action’ (UN Millennium Project 2005: xiv). Such community action could be interpreted as community empowerment over urban development; unfortunately, this interpretation would be misguided, and it is not unheard of that communities are by necessity having to take action to fill the void left by government inaction. Urban development is often undemocratic and inequitable because communities are often excluded from policy and policymaking (Drydyk 2005). If the aim is to make urban development more equitable and more democratic, what policies are relevant? This is an issue for which the capability approach offers a productive framework to adjudicate what opportunities we should be concerned about and which policies contribute to (or deprive) equality of opportunity. To identify these substantive opportunities, I begin with the assertion that the practice of design is a productive perspective from which to theorize about the personal circumstances and deprivations that lead to in equalities in opportunities to have a substantive role in urban development. Here, I do not take the narrow definition of design as about form-giving or styling; rather, I ascribe to Simon’s more expansive definition of design as ‘concerned with how things ought to be, with devising artefacts to achieve goals’ (Simon 1988: 69). The question about democratic and equitable urban development is at its core about who can impose order upon the urban built environment. If the answer to that question is ‘the communities inhabiting that urban built environment’, then we must logically conceive of the capabilities communities require to express, that is, to design, their identity into everyday spaces.