Transition towards urban sustainability through socially integrative cities in the EU and in China

Citizen Participation

1. Purpose(s)

The knowledge of the population as local experts complements the know-how of the experts and leads to better sustainable development outcomes. The goal in this context is to find a reasonable balance between the interests of the residents and the collective requirements of growing cities. The benefits of citizen engagement are often underestimated in the planning processes, however through the involvement of citizens and actors the strength of the plans and the degree of success in their implementation can be tested and improved.

Key Words: participation; citizen; local experts; knowledge exchange

2. Relevance and Impact

For socially integrative cities an early involvement of citizens is essential to generate an understanding of the development dynamics and increase commitment within the citizens towards implementation. In addition, conflicts of interests can be recognized, addressed and potentially resolved early in the process, thus increasing the likelihood of successful implementation and benefitting all involved.

In the case study cities citizen participation was used as a tool in Madrid, Santander, Stockholm, Vienna, Beijing and Tianjin. In European Cities the tool is used in different contexts of urban planning. In the case study areas, the output from this tool leads in strategic documents. In China, mainstream public participation methods mainly include development implementer-centered public participation (such as relying on industrial associations of industrial parks) and citizen-centered public participation (such as participatory planning and design) to promote influential subjects and citizen participation. The tool was tested in an online workshop with Chinese experts. The conclusion was that participation takes time, is not always comfortable and no citizen process looks the same due to the different context and interest of cities. However, through the involvement conflicting topics can be determined at an early stage.

3. Strenghts

Finding solutions that match the needs of different population groups through integrating the local knowledge of the population within the development and implementation process. Enabling the discussion and exchange of interests, addressing and resolving potential conflicts early on and jointly finding collective, robust and environmentally sound solutions. Citizen engagement increases local awareness, broadens horizons and creates understanding for diverse points of view. A participatory process further strengthens democratic and inclusive urban development strategies.

4. Weaknesses

Some citizens and citizen groups may have more power in negotiations than others. Citizen engagement is a lengthy process that requires moderation and guidance as well as adequate mechanisms in order to capture the outcomes.

5. Good practice examples

Madrid (map): ‘Reunions’ - roundtables for strategic planning actions

The city has chosen a decentralized, but top-down initiated approach to citizen engagement. Each city district ‘owns’ a citizen participation process called ‘Reunion’. The facilitation of a Reunion event is set-up in two segments. The first segment is compiled of a thematic input presented by the City Planners and City Administration.  The second segment contains round table discussions and working sessions. The Reunion events generate a list of shared actions that are reviewed and prioritized by every district. The proposed actions are evaluated by the City Council and respective decisions are made in line with the preceding process and outcomes. This practice strengthens the ‘culture of participation’ and helps citizens to gain trust in urban planners.

Madrid (map): Competitions for development of local places and neighborhoods

‘Meet-Up Madrid’ competitions are organized by Madrid City Council and supported by the C40 network. This initiative promotes the meeting between companies representing different sectors. The aim is to encourage the formation of multidisciplinary teams: architects, urban designers, investors and managers of innovative activities. The innovative aspect of this approach is two-fold; firstly, the engagement and collaboration has been designed in a competition format fostering new stakeholder constellations; secondly, the related urban development activities target the recovery of abandoned and/or brown field sites, addressing the nexus between decarbonization, resilience as well as economic and social services.

Santander (map): Identifying ideas and needs of the citizens:

The knowledge of the citizens about the city of Santander therefore also called 'Santander’s City Brain' is used by the City Council as an element of collaborative intelligence. The city engages the community in gathering the insights on a large scale. Based on the collected information, the needs of the citizen become visible and new ideas for potentials solutions can be generated. Citizen inputs are collected in an interactive database, prioritized and implemented in necessary software or IT infrastructure. Citizens’ participation allows early identification of needs and ‘hot topic’ and provides a platform for sharing a broad variety of innovative ideas. The city on the other hand, provides the IT brainpower, infrastructure and resources to implement these ideas (e.g. developing an app or smart services).

6. References

7. Author(s) of the article

Gudrun Haindlmaier