Envisioning and co-creating sustainable urban neighborhoods by reaching across institutional boundaries

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Imagine a green and pedestrianized city district where residents have participated in creating affordable and sustainable housing.

This intervention may be initiated by citizens wishing to live in more sustainable ways.With a common understanding and vision of what a sustainable neighbourhood is meant to be, i.e. affordable and low-energy housing, green areas as well as gentle mobility, citizens from diverse backgrounds could have identified their participation in formal urban development as the only way for this scenario to emerge. But can this be done? Specifically, converging interests with the municipality and its intentions to establish a new district while experimenting with innovative measures like participatory planning and the creation of citizens’ housing cooperatives, may be crucial. Citizen organizations, being progressively professionalized, and the municipality could work in partnership to implement the project whose success may depend on the good collaboration between them. Indeed, a real co-creation process can only result from the well-defined and (relatively) horizontal distribution of responsibilities between each group.

Building on the experiences of previous community projects could facilitate citizens’ participation. Indeed, such background may provide legitimacy to citizen-led interventions as well as enhance trust among municipal actors in the capacity of citizen groups to successfully implement projects. Additionally, benefiting from organizational and human resources from other community networks may be of great support for the project’s proponents.

Undoubtedly, such innovative collaboration cannot work smoothly right out of the gate, some obstacles may be encountered on the way. For example, bureaucratic frameworks usually used by municipalities in urban development projects may not be adapted for such co-creation projects. Eventually, it could constrain citizen participation who may then feel unjustly treated and disregarded by the municipality. Dissensus may also arise between grassroot project proponents having contrasting visions about the district development (e.g. more libertarian or more institutionalized ambitions).

Since such obstacles are mostly related to a lack of communication and misunderstandings, most important may be to express any discontents or frustrations (e.g. about procedures and visions) and discuss these issues. Handy solutions could be found in appreciating the mutual wishes and expectations of the different citizen groups and the municipality. A mediator reestablishing the dialogue between these actors may be of great support. As roles and expectations would be adjusted as well as transparency and mutual trust between actors granted, the project could be successfully implemented.

This intervention on governance arrangements for urban development projects aims at being inspirational for citizens and urban policy makers. Eventually, key governance arrangements featured in this scenario may be replicated elsewhere, including in different sectors at the municipal level or/and to other urban contexts.

Do you want to learn more about this scenario?

Take a look at the detailed Co-creation of a sustainable neighborhood in Freiburg that has inspired this scenario.

This scenario fits under the approaches:

  • Co-living, co-housing & intentional communities. The approach refers to a variety of approaches and movements that aim to provide affordable, ecological or community housing in both urban and rural contexts.
  • Governance and participation processes. This approach geared toward urban sustainability emphasise defining and addressing environmental problems as well as envisioning the future of cities, mainly based on the co-production of knowledge through innovative, diverse and strategic partnerships.
  • Sharing and cooperatives for urban commons. The approach refers to a paradigm shift away from individualistic and exclusivity practices, which are embedded in modern urbanism and urban lifestyles in regards to particular resources and services. Sharing is a central aspect of commoning practices, while commons governance often takes the form of cooperatives.

It addresses some drivers of injustice:

  • Uneven and exclusionary urban intensification and regeneration. This driver refers to the ways in which new urban developments might force trade-offs between the social and environmental goals of urban sustainability projects. It involves public efforts to improve a neighbourhood’s physical structure and boost its economy by attracting investment, usually in the sectors of real estate and tourism.
  • Exclusive access to the benefits of sustainability infrastructure. This driver refers to the ways in which territory, identity, education, knowledge, and information are used to draw lines, privileges, and hierarchies between social groups, and especially to how this leads to an uneven distribution of benefits from urban sustainability efforts.
  • Limited citizen participation in urban planning. This driver refers to the limited involvement and engagement of citizens and citizens’ initiatives in decision-making around the planning, design, implementation and/or evaluation of urban sustainability-oriented interventions.