Getting Residents Involved in Improving Public Spaces: Lessons Learned

URBACT

By URBACT, on October 10th, 2014

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Residents’ involvement is vital in developing public spaces. Who better than the residents can talk about what they need, say what is not working, and suggest improvements? It is the residents who actually use the public spaces and their expert practical knowledge is invaluable. The majority of the URBACT USER network partner cities report that it was originally difficult to involve residents in the process of developing public spaces. The most difficult part was getting users to actively participate in the project.

The partners came up with a number of common guidelines for fostering involvement: go to meet residents locally, hold informal meetings (outdoors, for example), be flexible and use a variety of formats, choose times to suit the target audience (families, elderly people, people who work), etc.

Even so, it can sometimes be hard to get people involved if they are not convinced by the end result. What’s more, technicians and residents do not have the same understanding of the project because they are approaching it with

different time frames, experience and knowledge. These differences breed disillusion and disappointment, especially as town planners cannot deliver everything the residents might have liked. Technicians must learn to use a common language, for example with the help of experienced associations that know how to communicate with members of the community.

A public space development project is a long process – longer than residents’ time scale – and this discourages many participants. This problem could be addressed by breaking the project down into smaller actions that produce visible results in the short or medium term. This would have the added advantage of showing that it does not necessarily take heavy investments to improve public spaces. Many questions have yet to be addressed, for example: are the residents and associations involved in the project legitimate representatives of those who use the public spaces? Do they

represent the full diversity of users? To what extent should residents beinvolved: information, consultation, participation, co-production?

Lessons from Dresden

Over and above the local referendums or public consultation required by law before town planning schemes can be approved, Dresden has developed a variety of formats to get residents involved, depending on the type of project.

Dresdner Debatte is a new form of open, public dialogue on urban development issues. It draws on both online and on-site participation: the Infobox (set up in a red container) is installed in a public space and provides a place where the population can find information and leave their comments and ideas. For smaller projects, residents are involved through forums, analysis by walking around, and workshops. It can include building aspects, as in the redevelopment of the

Lindenplatz public space. However, this type of consultation sometimes shows its limitations.

For example, when there were plans to develop a vacant block into a playground, a public consultation was organised, but the vast majority of the participants were elderly people and the project was challenged. In the end, their opinions were not followed, the playground was built and it has since proved popular with families.

Read more on the USER project’s homepage.

3 Responses to “Getting Residents Involved in Improving Public Spaces: Lessons Learned”

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