Power to the people? how to judge public participation
Community involvement now seems secure as a key principle of urban regeneration and neighbourhood renewal. It is enshrined in legislation and policy guidance (DTLR, 2001), serves as a foundation of national strategy (SEU, 1998) and is recognised as a fundamental civil right (Richardson, 1983). It promises a host of benefits, from better policy through greater social cohesion to enhanced self-respect for those who get involved. However, there are also signs of some disquiet. At an ideological level, there are those who claim that involvement is merely part of the systematic oppression of the most excluded sections of the population, whereby a small minority are incorporated into the workings of the state (Cooke & Kothari, 2001) while others see it as part of the obfuscatory language of repressive neoliberalism (Callinicos, 2001). At a more pragmatic level, there are long-standing concerns among decision makers that involvement can be a very costly business that does little more than provide 'the usual suspects' with another opportunity to advance their views and complicate what is already a difficult process of public choice (Foley & Martin, 2000). Finally, community involvement initiatives are frequently criticised for being half-hearted and tokenistic, poorly resourced and badly planned (Alcock, 2004) and in study after study the practice of community involvement in urban regeneration does not seem to match up to the theoretical benefits (Burton et al., 2004).