Serial Participation in Urban Planning: The Trouble Makers as City Makers?

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Problem, research strategy, and findings: The current focus on power relationships in planning processes emphasizes socioeconomic characteristics of the general public, whose participation is often portrayed as one-time, idiosyncratic, nonprofessional, and relatively powerless. To shift attention to the understudied repeated participation in the general public, we distinguish serial participation as a distinct participation pattern by focusing on an underexplored group, referred to as natural joiners or usual suspects. Our analysis focuses on Jerusalem and draws on interviews with serial participators (N = 13) who participated in at least three different planning processes and with city planners (N = 19). Becoming a serial participator emerged as an evolutionary process, during which knowledge gained triggered transitional learning, manifested by a broader perspective on planning and a transition toward locality-oriented participation. Serial participators’ influence varies; it can extend beyond specific planning outcomes to the process itself and the discourse among city planners. Although it does not mitigate imbalanced power relations within the public, serial participation contributes to more balanced power relations between ordinary citizens and paid participants in planning. Takeaway for practice: Serial participators can provide planners with valuable historical perspective, local knowledge, and participation recommendations while serving as intermediaries to the local community capable of mobilizing others and activating civic networks. Planners can nurture serial participation by encouraging repeated involvement of individuals engaged in additional community spheres or passionate “anecdotal” participants. Seeking influence and not recognition, serial participators may not always fully cooperate. Planners should invest in long-term relationships that allow for reconciling inevitable disagreements.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)149-162
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2022


  • power relations
  • serial public participation
  • transitional learning

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


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