First Advisor

Charles D. Bolton

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Urban Studies


Urban Studies and Planning




Zoning -- Oregon -- Portland -- Citizen participation, Communication in public administration -- Oregon -- Portland, Zoning boards -- Oregon -- Portland -- Decision making



Physical Description

3, viii, 192 leaves 28 cm.


This study addresses a major theoretical issue posed in the literature: can alienation in modern urban society be conceptualized in terms of the communicative competence of speakers taking part in social interaction. Specifically, this study explores the relationship between communicative competence and two observable indications of success in land use hearings: 1) ability to influence the final decision of the Variance Committee and 2) expression of feelings of dissatisfaction with the hearings process, as expressed by the participants. On a broader scale, the study tests Jurgen Habermas's classification of speech acts and the notion that public hearings are a free and open process for integrating public opinion into land use decisions. Twenty-five hearings before the Variance Committee of the City of Portland were observed in order to record the types of speech acts used by four different groups in the hearings - the protestors, the applicants, the planning staff and the committee members. Following the hearings the applicant and a protestor were interviewed to ask information about their perceptions of the hearings process. In addition, all the Variance Committee members (15) and twenty-five professional planning staff were interviewed. Altogether 98 interviews were conducted. Analysis of Variance demonstrates that there is a significant difference in the use of the four types of speech acts by the four groups. Tabular analysis shows that the applicants are more comfortable with the hearings process than the protestors. However, both groups are relatively well satisfied with the hearings process, even after controlling for the final decision. Multiple linear regression demonstrates that the decision of the hearing is strongly associated with the speech acts received by the applicants and protestors. Furthermore, a large portion of those acts and their direction can be attributed to the committee Chairman. Based on these two findings (direction of the committee's attention and the Chairman's influence), a case analysis of 14 (out of twenty-five) crucial cases were examined to determine the interactive process used in reaching the final decision. Crucial case analysis revealed that the committee follows an identical ritual review process, led by the Chairman, in all those cases where the final decision corresponds to the staff recommendation. In those cases where the staff recommendation is reversed, the ritual review process is interrupted by one of three types of unexpected errors, committed by the testifiers, which shift the communicative attention of the committee to the opposing testifiers. These findings suggest the hearing process does not provide free and open access to opportunities to influence the decision in Variance hearings. Although some feelings of placation occur on the part of applicants and protestors, the final decisions are heavily predisposed by the professional staff recommendation. This predisposition is not overcome by compelling rational discourse, but only if a "fatal error" is committee by one group of testifiers.


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