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Community Participation in Large-scale Urban Transformation Projects

Community Participation in Large-scale Urban Transformation Projects

9 June 2017

Ecologic Institute's Brendan O'Donnell was invited to deliver a keynote address on the topic of community participation in large-scale urban transformation projects in Marseille (France), as part of the EUCANET project.

The EUCANET project connects agencies, municipalities, and developers from across Europe to develop and share methods and policies focused on effectively engaging local citizens in preparing their cities for the future. The project comprises teams from Turin and Bologna (Italy), Marseille (France), Cluj (Romania), and Skopje (Macedonia). The meeting in Marseille, which took place from 7 until 9 June 2017, was the first following the successful kick-off in Turin in March.

Brendan O'Donnell spoke at a public conference hosted by the Marseille Union of Architects on the occasion of the vernissage of the Quartiers Libres exhibition, the first public presentation of a new development design for the city.

Sticking to the messages of the POCACITO projects and Ecologic Institute's roots, Brendan discussed three large-scale repurposing and redevelopment projects in Germany and their variations in terms of successful public participation. The first focus was the Perspektive München project which has created abundant opportunities for members of the community to share their ideas and concerns about the city's future, perhaps at the expense of progress. The second project mentioned was Berlin's Tempelhofer Feld which devolved into an adversarial situation that made negotiation and compromise between various stakeholders impossible. The final example was the extreme case of the Stuttgart 21 train station which highlights the political and social fallout of trying to erase community members from the dialogue.

Each of the German examples serves not as a warning but as a confirmation of two essential lessons of regarding urban development and community engagement. First, it is a nuanced, inexact science that needs to adapt to the circumstances related to the projects and the communities in their spaces and times. Second, the people will always have a say. Whether invited to participate at the first planning meeting or kept in the dark until the ribbons are cut, the communities will decide the success of any and all development projects.

In order to benefit from collaboration with communities in developing and implementing large-scale urban repurposing projects, Brendan suggested that cities, agencies, and developers apply the following guidelines:

  1. Don't use citizen engagement as a means for avoiding necessary changes;
  2. Create a definition of citizen engagement for each project that includes action, some method or manner of participation that goes beyond discussion;
  3. Offer a specific vision or goal for the project to focus the dialogue;
  4. Develop a project story that incorporates the community's past, requires the present to be told, and opens the future to new possibilities; and
  5. Success is not winning 50%+1, but maximum accessibility.

Ecologic Institute's work on public participation and sustainable urban development continues to gain momentum, both in Europe and the United States, thanks predominately to the various iterations of the POCACITO (Post-Carbon Cities of Tomorrow) project.