Why do people value their cities?

Values, Space, Place and Race in Cities

Cameron McAuliffe, Western Sydney University and Dallas Rogers, the University of Sydney

What matters to people in our cities? What is the value of housing? What is the value of community engagement in planning? How should we value street art and graffiti? What is the value of urban protest?

These are some of the questions we’re exploring in this project, which brings together contemporary work by geographers, sociologists, anthropologists and political economists that engages with value/s, space, place and race. Beyond Marx’s labour theory of value, value and values have not attracted the attention they deserve in geography and the social sciences more broadly, often under the assumption that they are subordinate to rational facts and objectivity. Even as the secure moorings of objective and rational facts have been unsettled by poststructural, postcolonial and feminist critique a healthy scepticism remains around the ‘value of values’. As geographers, we are often involved in processes of valuation and evaluation that extend from the positivist, rational and calculative to the relational, plural and subjective. Yet, when we research and write about values we often invite claims of relativism and an uncritical reliance on the normative.

Our engagement with value and values in cities evokes theorisations that exceed attempts to enclose values in ‘the market’ or capitalism. We take as our initial guide Elizabeth Olsen and Andrew Sayer’s exhortation to intensify our engagement as critical geographers with the normative practices of valuation. This resonates with the emergent interest of geographers in more ethical approaches to their work, in research on the ethics of care and caring geographies; moral geographies; in post-colonial and indigenous geographies; and post-capitalist and moral economies. We are interested in drawing these debates together through the concept of value; to identify some of the common theoretical elements and intellectual disjunctures in the ways we are approaching the relationship between space, place and value in geography.

Publications and Commentary

The politics of value in urban development: Valuing conflict in agonistic pluralism, in Planning Theory

We consider the role of value pluralism in theorising urban development and the politics of participatory planning.


Value pluralism in urban planning, in Planning Theory

We discuss three points that clarify our appeal to the plural values that animate and motivate thought and action, not just as a politics, but as an engagement with the social in an attempt to engage, as Andrew Sayer notes, with ‘what matters to people’.


Tracing resident antagonisms in urban development: agonistic pluralism and participatory planning, in Geographical Research

Drawing on research with resident action groups and other alliances in Sydney, we investigates the ways in which citizens work beyond the formal planning system to approach and achieve their urban development goals.


Residential involvement in urban development in Sydney: the new politics of the city, published by the Henry Halloran Trust

This Blue Sky study explores a new conceptual approach to community involvement
in planning that responds to contemporary critiques of participatory planning.


Value/s, space and place in geography, RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2020: 1-4 September 2020, London



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