Study an example of bold and imaginative planning and you will encounter leadership – probably inspirational leadership. Planning professionals understand this well enough. In contrast, planning theorists have paid very little attention to the importance of leadership in public policy making and this would appear to be a serious weakness in planning scholarship. This article aims to encourage planning academics and practitioners to give more attention to the nature of public leadership in modern spatial planning and local governance.
When viewed from an international perspective the evidence suggests that successful spatial planning is closely intertwined with imaginative place-based leadership. The article discusses evolving debates about local governance and leadership, and sets out a new conceptual model for understanding place-based leadership. The political space within which place-based leaders operate varies across countries and over time. With the rise of globalisation place-less forces have gained momentum, and these forces constrain local agency. This article argues, however, that place-less power cannot extinguish community-based initiatives and local public service innovation, nor can it erase progressive planning. By drawing on recent international research on place-based leadership, the article points towards new possibilities for spatial planning and local governance, and encourages universities to participate more actively in place-based leadership.