, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 347-367

Getting realistic about megaproject planning: The case of the new Denver International Airport

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Megaprojects continue to play a prominent role in promoting economic development, and have proliferated rapidly worldwide. But, as they have grown larger in number, size, and complexity, their planning, implementation and ultimate success become increasingly problematic. Most encounter unexpected difficulties and seldom achieve their original objectives. This article addresses the reasons for this state of affairs by focusing upon the relevance of the Rational model of decision making to the case of the new Denver International Airport. It traces its evolution and considers the extent to which the Rational model explains the major events. It concludes that this model has only limited explanatory power because it does not incorporate political elements which play a major role in megaprojects. The Rational model can be successfully applied to an entire project only where the political system permits a powerful agency to design and implement the project. This condition is rarely met in democratic societies, especially in the U.S. Furthermore, its applicability is limited by the new environment in which planning takes place, an environment that is marked by the emergence of new actors and increasing turbulence and uncertainty. Accordingly, recognition of the role of power suggests that the utility of the Rational model is limited and that alternative planning approaches that emphasize consensus building and flexibility need to be developed for megaproject planning.