Chapter 5:      Creating Community Participation

Bringing in the local Experts

Building new partnerships in local governance has become more necessary than ever. Major external conditions have changed and have led to a crisis in urban development. Globalization, privatization and reduced governmental budgets require an adapted organizational response, a regrouping into a new balance of forces. In our opinion this can be done and the crisis overcome by widening the existing partnerships, specifically by including the local community as a partner in planning homes and cities the advantages of centralizing and globalizing development are limited by the "human factor". Global technical organizations create by definition standardized solutions which are often ill-fitted to the requirements of social organisms like neighborhoods that depend on non-physical elements like atmosphere and identity. To bring these elements in new partners have to be involved, that are experts in understanding the needs of the neighborhood. These are most likely to be local.

Typically the billboards and advertisements of developers and real estate agents depict exactly those elements that they as developers and a technically perfect solution cannot provide: people, warmth, community, identity.

The local community can contribute these substantive missing elements, if given space and respect as an acknowledged partner in urban development.

Notions like the ‘network society’ and ‘the creative city’ are well under discussion, but have not been matched yet by a networking governance or a creative participatory management process on the level of spatial planning.

Localizing Development

The Nest! is about introducing a new player into urban development: the local community. It applies the concept of "more responsibility and participation of citizens" to the field of urban planning. Rather than building for an abstract ‘market’ the community develops housing and infrastructure for its own requirements. This obviously has the advantage that the resulting neighborhood fits the needs of its population.

A neighborhood developed by the inhabitants is a very local product. It has a local identity. And whatever the identity is, it is different from standard and different from other towns. It differs from something that good designers on their own will come up with. Being different is what is needed to attract new inhabitants and keep the existing ones. It is what is needed to sell houses, which is an argument well understood by developers.

Community Building precedes Community Involvement

Community building is an integral part of developing civic participation in urban planning. This is not an extra, but a basic element of the required process. Professionals go through a learning and qualification process before they enter practice. Government goes through a dialogue and consensus building process before plans and programs are implemented. In the case of introducing the local community as a new partner in urban planning, it should not be individuals or single interest groups entering local governance or speaking for civil society. Communities need to go through a participative process of collective vision building and decision making and a transparent process of local accountability in order to be legitimate partners in development.

Generating enabling Conditions for Community Participation

The Nest! Academy as described in the previous chapter takes an important role in this context by organizing a community building process that generates both the needed knowledge, motivation and vision as well as the consensus building required for residents to play a constructive role in urban development.

The Nest! also facilitates a further element widely recognized as central to mobilizing civic participation, the issue of adapting institutional structures to grassroots culture. Creating equitable and sustainable partnerships with local communities involves changing the professional way of doing things. This is not an easy thing to do as it involves changing "business as usual". The temporary settlement with its participatory community projects and activities creates another kind of culture. By integrating the planning process in the Neighborhood Academy, "community culture" can set the climate and take the lead, thus enabling new forms of procedures, partnerships and participation.

 

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