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In whose interest? Interrogating the conceptual dilemma of public interest and its application to physical planning

Abstract

The concept of public interest has found varied applications in diverse fields of study and professional practice such as public administration, politics, law, social relations and physical planning. Despite the pervasive applications of this concept, building a consensus around the connotation has been rather problematic. Drawing on the wealth of extant works on the concept of public interest, this article attempts a conceptual overview of this oft-used, but largely nebulous concept with a view to tracing its origin, content, context and relevance in the field of physical planning. This article notes that while there is a multiplicity of abstractions, the central theme of public interest remains unchanged: people in the collective – their concerns, aspirations and stakes. The multiplicity of interpretations is traceable to the different ideological, disciplinary and professional contexts within which public interest finds expression. Given the fact that the ‘whys and whereforesʼ of physical planning are rooted in advancing public interest, this article argues for the incorporation of sustainability considerations in the formation and articulation of public interest, as the interests of future generations are germane to planning. However, incorporating and streamlining diverse interests and interrelationships in it remain a critical challenge which a planner faces in the pursuance of the common good.

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