Urban Planning And The Multi-dimensional Communication Era


By URBACT, on March 25th, 2014

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« Because urban planning has always been based on the gathering and exchange of information and – as a democratic process – on communication between different stakeholders, a change in the method of communication has a significant impact on decision-making throughout the process ». (Stefan Höffken and Chris Haller)

By now, you probably have heard of the nine projects kick-started last december, and with which URBACT is experimenting Local Action Plan delivery and transfer of good practices… Well, as all URBACT projects, those 9 also come with a project-bound communication officer, and last week, all of them met in Paris for a two-day working session. Hearing all those creative and engaged professionals speak about their project and communication strategy, it was clear how central an aspect communication is for their – and probably, any – urban development project.

Communication As Good Practice

This is especially true, of course, of projects such as City Logo, dealing explicitely with city branding, but communication also often wind up being much more central a task than traditionnally expected in most projects, as Luis, from the Gastronomic Cities project, or Leona from the GeniUs: Open Project reported. For Gastronomic Cities, communication is part of the good practice Burgos is bringing to the network, for building a gastronomic city is also building a tailor-fitted discourse and aesthetic around gastronomy in that particular city. As a model for the output of the project, Luis mentions the European Capital of Culture, after which the Spanish Capital of Gastronomy already took.

New Communication Tools And Participation

An other assignment for a communication’s plan can be to foster participation in the decision-making process. The practice of online consultation is spreading: URBACT is currently running one on his own website, and so is the European Commission, seeking to involve stakeholders in the construction of the European Urban Agenda. Participation is also most central to the GeniUs! Project, whose online collaboration platform enables exchange of ideas between residents, communities, companies and academics. To get citizens involved is a different type of challenge. « You need to package it up », says Leona. Or maybe, translate? « I keep telling the professionals I work with, ” talk to me like I’m three! ” ».

The quote at the beginning of this post was taken out of a paper by Stefan Höffken and Chris Haller, who set out to research how new medias were used for urban planning matters. They are refering to geographer Manuel Castells’ and Clay Shirky‘s work to describe the change from uni-dimentional communication towards a many-to-many exchange sphere that, so Shirky, is on the verge of becoming ubiquitous. Höffken and Haller provide interesting insights in how different tools can serve certain goals and complement each-other by surveying urban projects and institutions or civil society mobilizations on urban matters as different as Tulsa municipality and the Mediaspree campaign in Berlin.

This Mode Of Communication Is Not Entirely Ubiquitous

But back in our working session in Paris, the communication officer for the Healthy Ageing project rightfully reminded us of the fact that the ubiquity, precisely, wasn’t yet complete. He for one would not reach the project’s target audience via Twitter. Neither will, probably, cities in the Roma-Net network, who have Roma engagement as their main goal. Yet, they could well (and they do) use these tools to connect with those people who social media monitoring tools call ‘influencers’ in their fields of interest and work.

But here is maybe another critical point. Höffken and Haller qualify the learning curve for social media use as easy, but it seems the countless tutorials on how to effectively use and monitor your social media accounts, as well as the ever-growing number of tools to do so, beg to differ. We would argue that social media use is not all that intuitive, or at least not when it comes to reach that « influencer » status. It can be truly fascinating to be on, say, twitter, connecting with people that share similar interest and bring in different experiences but exchanges seem to occur largely between people who have a similar expert status and also know more about social media use than the average citizen. It seems important to keep this aspect of social media use in mind for a communication that truly fosters participation and provides effective support to a democratic approach on urban planning.

One Response to “Urban Planning And The Multi-dimensional Communication Era”

  1. […] At URBACT, Stefan Höffken and Chris Haller consider urban planning and the multi-dimensional communication era: […]

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