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Sustainable Development, Rolled-out Neoliberalism and Sustainable Communities

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Abstract

Recent contributions by geographers on the relationships between states and citizens have documented the rise of rolled-out neoliberalism. Development agendas are, it is argued, increasingly dominated by the principles of market-driven reforms, social inequality, and a drive towards enhancing the economic competitiveness of the supply side of the economy. However, at the same time, a parallel set of discourses has emerged in the development literature which argues that it is principles of sustainable development that have, in practice, become dominant. The emphasis is, instead, on democratic empowerment, environmental conservation, and social justice. This paper examines the relationships between these ostensibly very different interpretations of contemporary development with an assessment of one of the Labour government's most ambitious planning agendas—the publication in February 2003 of the document Sustainable Communities: Building for the Future. The proposals are promoted as a “step change” in the planning system with a new emphasis on tackling shortages of housing in the South East and reviving the economy of the Thames Gateway area. The paper assesses the different ways in which such programmes can be interpreted and argues that contemporary development practices in countries such as Britain are constituted by a hybridity of approaches and rationalities and cannot be reduced to simple characterisations of rolled-out neoliberalism or sustainable development.

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