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Thread: What is "the public interest?"

  1. #1
    Feb 2002
    BC, Canada

    What is "the public interest?"

    Scenario: You have an issue which you resolve in a way that you feel supports "the public interest". A public meeting is met with collosal apathy. You get 10 letters against and 1 in favour. The opponents (the 10 letters people) exert pressure on the politicians by saying the planner is against the public interest and cannot show any support. They say that if the general public doesn't care then why not change it so that the 10 are satisfied and then everyone is either happy or apathetic. As a planner I need to represent the longer term repurcussions but my logical arguments are being overwhelmed by the vocal 10. How would you respond to this scenario?

  2. #2

    What is "THE public interest?" or &quo

    This is a question I have been playing with for a little while. A few years ago the Canadian federal government launched a budget reduction campaign called "programme review." The process required departments to come up with some quite serious reductions. To assist them, the Privy Council Office cooked up a series of tests that programmes would have to pass in order to go on living.

    The first test that departments had to ask of their various programmes was called "the public interest test." Somewhat curiously, this test asked "Does the programme area or activity continue to serve a public interest?"

    I would have thought that there is only THE public interest -- a collective notion that one would associate with "publicness." The idea of A public interest seems quite peculiar to me since it segments the public in a way that isn't really all that useful.

    When one starts to hive-up the public into publics -- more like clientellistic groups than citizens -- the potential for useful political engagement (that is broad-based engagement) is diminished, though not perhaps utterly eliminated.

    The question that Mr/Ms Cosmic poses might be somewhere up the same street. Perhaps this is a question of A public interest rather than THE public interest. Maybe in the brave new world of the new public management, the public interest no longer exists.

    On this rather depressing note, I remain,

    yours truly,


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