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CAN SMART PLANNING ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO SHAPE THE FUTURE OF THEIR CITIES?

Incomprehensible plans will never attract people and deliver any @public good'

CAN SMART PLANNING ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO SHAPE THE FUTURE OF THEIR CITIES?

OUR URBAN PLANS ARE INCOMPREHENSIBLE, BUREAUCRATIC AND THEREFORE BORING

I am sure that planning as it is done today has no place in our future. The eager comments on this subject to some of my previous posts are a clear sign that I am not the only one to share this idea: slow, bureaucratic, hindering rather than promoting well-being….

Similarly, however, I am totally devoted to the need of planning for the prosperity of all people. In times of rapid urbanisation, there is no other way to build the habitats the human race deserves. How else can we protect ourselves from natural events? Or manage the human impacts of man-made catastrophes? Or make efficient services available to a rapidly changing population?

Cities and their administrations one hundred years ago adopted the system of planning we still use today. In those times, cities were taking charge of the ‘public good’ and supporting the poor ‘hard working families’ who did not have a voice. But the world has now changed: cities cannot fund massive city investment programmes, and by and large they do not see that this is their role. And ‘hard working families’ have a voice and they have the will to use it, too.

Yet, I suspect that most people cannot penetrate the bureaucracy of current planning, and can only engage when forced to, by opposing anything that feels like a threat.

CURRENT WAYS TO ENGAGE LEAVE MOST PEOPLE OUT

In the past decades, lots of time and effort has been deployed to try and democratise planning. Sometimes out of genuine conviction that planning is about the ‘public good’ and it is therefore a public matter.  Other times, in the hope of softening public opposition and ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ engagement.

Lots of methods emerged to promote collaboration, debate and proactive thinking: charrettes, urban games, workshops and forums and so on. Neighbourhood Planning in the UK was enabled by national legislation in 2011, to give people more control over the development of their local area.

All these are great, and a step in the right direction, but they are labour intensive, expensive and do not really engage the majority of people on the fundamental debate of ‘what kind of city’ I want for the future. They all demand huge time commitments and patience – not the best premises to assume that the majority of citizens will take part!

SMART PLANNING – NEW WAYS OF THINKING

Ok – we all know humans are typically fascinated by new tech and gadgets. But this is not about which apps and software. It is about what they can do for us that we will find easy and exciting.  

I would love to feel I can shape the future of my city – but surely this cannot be through one-off intensive meetings every 5-6 years followed by silence or through neighbourhood get-togethers for several years to just have a chance to influence our local streets and houses. I would want more! I would like to know that my city is moving forward, and will be the right place for me and my children in future. … I would like to be proud…

Facebook, Uber, AirBnB are a revolution because they put people in touch with each other and exchange. They make it easy for people to offer something and for others to pick it up if they want it. They do not force anybody and welcome all people with good intentions. The content is created by people… the outcome is used by people. Enabled by technology that is simple and accessible for all users.

What is the urban planning equivalent of this? This is what we should be focusing on:

• A place where citizens can continuously offer images and ideas about the city, and pick up other people’s offers: progressively building up a collective image of what the city is about – and how it can respond to changes and new demands. 

Collective aspirations could then shape and form the objectives of the urban plan – simply and transparently. Cutting away the procedures that people do not need or want to deal with. Allowing us to join in when we have something to give, and letting us ‘watch’ how our city is formed. And if anything, it will remove the idea that plans are updated once every ten years or more, and people can only engage that once -  as if cities did not have the ability or need to change more often than that. 

 

Written by

MARTINA JUVARA

MARTINA JUVARA

Director at URBAN Silence

URBAN Silence is friendly and fun, but committed to intelligent work

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