“Really everything faces protest,” former Flemish architect Leo van Broek said recently. talent. “We participate in the destruction of our way of life.” But that claim needs a nuance, say Jonas de Meyer and Tim DeVos of Endeavor, an agency that specializes in engagement. “The government has not yet found a way to develop self-regulating citizen initiatives.”
In a recent interview with talent Former Flemish engineer Leo van Broek points out that certain forms of citizen protest increasingly complicate the construction process and ambitious spatial projects. However, the article makes it very clear that we must primarily seek responsibility for the failed participation model from the citizen who opposes construction projects in his immediate surroundings. However, there is much more than that.
We are facing massive social transformations with unprecedented spatial impact. Think about preserving our open space, moving to sustainable mobility and renewable energy, sharing available space, and making our urban living environment climate adaptive and providing energy-efficient and affordable housing. Incidentally, Van Broek’s great merit is that he has broadened the architectural debate to include these major challenges today.
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However, these are all issues that stand or fall with the necessary behavioral change, group awareness, and gaining broad social support. That is why it is undoubtedly important to engage in an active dialogue with citizens on issues of this nature. However, the path is less clear. Citizens still participate often only through traditional consultation meetings in the context of concrete building files, often too late in the process. There are still very few ways and tools to engage in discussions with citizens about broad spatial and social transformations. However, this is an absolute requirement if the government wants to be able to incentivize people to use a more sustainable space.
Reverse the resistance of citizens that can be rejected Nimbe-behavior (Not in my backyard), representing a growing number of innovative and highly productive citizen movements and initiatives. It literally fits the right to actively help shape the city, as opposed to an outdated model in which only the citizen is consulted. Famous social geographer David Harvey says, “The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is one of our most valuable, albeit most neglected, human rights.”
Participation and participation in the design of your environment is a democratic right, but unfortunately it is often overlooked. In recent years, the impact of such initiatives has been noticeable, as they become increasingly professional, disseminate a wide range of expertise and develop tactics to engage citizens in entirely new ways. Think of a movement like Ringland that made the government understand that a mobility project can be used to increase the quality of urban life. Or the many examples in which citizens, often temporary developments of vacant buildings that are difficult to repurpose, give a new dynamism to the neighborhood, such as Hal5 in Leuven.
Unfortunately, citizens’ self-organized initiatives are not always appreciated, and the government has not yet found a way to cultivate them and have them influence and modify actual policy. Therefore, it is often limited to experiments in the margins or in the meantime.
“Where the architect used to play the role of ‘expert’ creating space with a grand gesture, today’s reality requires that this be done more through dialogue.”
Citizens are experts by experiencing their living environment. Through well-thought-out engagement processes, you can grow this expertise and use it in a targeted way to understand local concerns and identify the projects’ added social value. The problem, however, is that engagement processes are often pre-designed and do little more than inform citizens of what will happen. In municipalities with a great deal of resistance from citizens, mistrust often arises through the granting of a free pass to development projects that already fail to generate enough of the social return that they promise, or through Dedicated To focus on outstanding projects in order to score political points and ignore historical opportunities for good spatial planning. When there is a democratic deficit in the development of spatial projects, legal action is often the only way. So citizens’ resistance must motivate governments to raise the bar.
The power of engagement lies precisely in going beyond individual interests by balancing a large number of voices, experiences, and interests. In practice, we see that many engagements only reach out to the usual dominant voices – or powerful lobbies. To form a democratic basis, participation must be comprehensively regulated and everyone and every (social) interest must be treated equally. For example, we see that it is very difficult to reach youth and youth through regular processes, and cultural, social and economic diversity is often missing. This in no way means that these target groups are less socially interactive, on the contrary, but it does make the need for personalization greater.
a ONE SIZE FITS ALL-The approach simply does not work and by no means everyone is attracted to the participatory approach that relies on boring information moments and tedious meetings. In dialogue, citizens simply adopt a more social stance, learning to look beyond their own interests, especially when this happens across generations. Thus, other, better and more representative forms of citizen participation can ensure that subtle behavior is isolated and that loud voices are given the necessary counterweight.
In development processes where tailored engagement becomes more important, the architect will also have to adapt. While the architect used to act as the ‘expert’ who creates the space with a grand gesture, today’s reality requires that this be done more through dialogue. This in no way detracts from the designer’s specific expertise, but does require an open mind, a listening ear and a more creative design attitude.
This does not necessarily mean a loss in the attractiveness of the profession. The architect strengthens the relationship with the neighborhood and the community and will continue to use design expertise to transform shared aspirations and ideas into form. So it seems important to us that architecture courses take their mission as well and train students well for this new role.
Tim DeVossEndeavor Partner, Architect, Urban Planner, PhD in Human Geography, Researcher at Ghent University and Visiting Professor at VUB
Jonas de MeyerEndeavor Partner, Architect and Urban Planner
quest It is a collaborative organization that helps governments engage various stakeholders in spatial transitions through research, process direction, and innovation.
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