Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Matthew Wilson


Recent discussions of participatory urban planning have focused largely on municipal-led initiatives for collaborative resident engagement as an increasingly visible trend of neoliberal urban governance. Critical observers have noted the alliance between local government and business interests, and their capacities to manage, co-opt, and depoliticize diverse community-based efforts, and to marginalize dissent, through public-private partnerships, often facilitated by private consultants. Actual practices of participation demonstrate a variety of alternative meanings. This case study of a community-based planning initiative for public housing redevelopment in Memphis, TN challenges and complicates these narratives. The Memphis Housing Authority invited a local community organization to lead a participatory planning initiative for redeveloping the city's last remaining public housing development. This initiative was then cancelled by the MHA after it produced data indicating that residents' visions did not align with the city's designs for the neighborhood, and instead would be used to protest impending housing demolitions. The ongoing struggle calls into question the authenticity of commitments to resident empowerment by local governments, and makes visible a serious disagreement about what exactly is meant by participation itself. I address the limitations of a normative discourse of participation, and offer possibilities for reframing the politics of participatory practice.