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WILL CITIZEN TO CITIZEN PLANNING REPLACE 'PARTICIPATION’?

Why not experiment with C2C plan making?

WILL CITIZEN TO CITIZEN PLANNING REPLACE 'PARTICIPATION’?

PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO SHAPE THEIR LIVING ENVIRONMENT

Humans have always shaped their living environments and built great habitats for themselves in the form of cities and urban areas. Naturally, it would make sense that people also become involved in one of the key instruments of city-making: urban plans.

THE NEW POWERS OF INDIVIDUALS

As planning struggles to achieve meaningful engagement through workshops, forums and charrettes, all mature systems of power by representation are anyway weakened by progressive erosion of participation. Even parliamentary elections in Europe in many cases fail to attract more than 60-65% of voters, even in great periods of economic crisis like the recent ones. Ballots for strikes are equally questioned as many union members do not vote at all.

This ‘public disaffection’ is in sharp contrast with the striking success of Citizen to Citizen initiatives – from free contributions to collective cultural platforms (Wikipedia or Panoramio), to skill exchanges (SwapSkill or Memrise) as well as the notorious commercial C2C services offered by Uber and AirBnB. People are not ‘individualistic’ and self-centred – possibly we have just lost faith in representative systems….

ENGLAND AND NEIGHBOURHOOD PLANNING: A LUKEWARM ‘TASTER’

In England, the Localism Act introduced in 2011 new rights to allow local communities to shape new development by coming together to prepare neighbourhood plans. According to the law, town and parish councils or 'neighbourhood forums' can prepare such plans, which must then be reviewed by an independent qualified professional, voted in a referendum and finally brought into force by the established Local Planning Authority.

This was hailed as a revolution 5-6 years ago… and perhaps it will really lead to one in future, but not for the moment.

While this is clearly a very significant step towards citizen direct involvement, it is not quite Citizen to Citizen planning, as the powers are only given for a restricted phase, with the Neighbourhood Plan initially framed by the standard Local Plan and then migrating towards the usual authorities for ‘implementation’. Perhaps enough to interest a community for some time, but not enough for citizens to keep up involvement! Especially as the Neighbourhood Plan cannot be proactively implemented by the community – it is only used (by the Council) in case ‘new development’ comes along.

It is somehow a promise with very uncertain practical outcomes.

OTHER EXPERIMENTS FROM DIFFERENT PLACES

Milan (Italy) is right now experimenting with ‘co-design’ initiatives, through a Participatory Budget element. The idea follows in the footsteps of Paris and Lisbon and works by allocating a (very small – around 1%) proportion of the city capital investment budget to initiatives chosen and led by citizens directly. The amount is equal for each of the nine districts of the city irrespective of need, and is equivalent to the basic refurbishment of a square or the implementation of a few kilometres of cycle routes. http://www.bilanciopartecipativomilano.it/

The original idea is American, of course: http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/ and it is a lot more tangible than Neighbourhood Planning: there is actual money, days of ‘Lab’ in which ideas and designs are developed, a list of concrete proposals (38 in Milan – to be presented next week) and actual choices. Maybe not everyone was involved and engaged, but those who were stand a real chance of seeing something for their time and efforts – or see alternative projects going forwards.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Rotterdam with a group of expert planners for the ISOCARP 2015 Congress. As part of the activities of the congress we met the people involved in the Luchtsingel project – a multi faceted regeneration initiative in the semi-abandoned office district near the station (http://www.luchtsingel.org/en/ ). The project is interesting from a physical / architectural/ urban perspective, but what it is extraordinary is the enthusiasm it has generated through festivals, celebrations, crowdfunding events and partnerships – this is the hard truth for all planners: people are drawn to urban initiatives, even passionate about them… but not to the repetitive and stale urban planning processes we put in front of them!

WHAT WILL THE FUTURE BRING?

At present at least, town planning is a regulatory system which cannot be without bureaucracy and lengthy procedures. Until we embrace Smart Planning concepts, the bureaucracy will stay. But in the meantime, we should do something and simply accept these two facts:

  • Citizen to Citizen planning cannot mean endless workshops to debate the Local Plan – workshops have a role, but they do not represent the views of the people and do not put people in the lead at all! They can only provide an alternative perspective at a given moment in time.

  • Citizen to Citizen planning should be based on what people are interested in; it needs to be continuous and agile: a multitude of fragmented citizen-led initiatives that have a secondary feed into the plan, but also a life of their own. Our work as planners will be to ‘listen in’ and act in consequence – whatever that would be.

I do not have ready solutions, but experimentation is underway: from using different media of representation (urban plan as a smart-phone enabled 3D virtual city) to parallel initiatives encouraging people to share their knowledge of the city or choices to inform planning outcomes. It may not work – it may require too much effort or give unusable information… but at least it is worth a try.

 

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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